If you’ve been following the press of late, you’ve noted the considerable angst generated by the unit oil trains that seem to be taking over the land. The “Chicken Little Caucus” has been running around so mindlessly predicting imminent immolation that they might as well have had they’re heads cut off. Their allies the “deep environmentalists” who’ve grown out of eco-terrorist groups like Earth First to run mainstream environmental groups are partners in this crime against science, egging them on in hopes they can confine all the oil in the ground, the trillion or so people that would starve as a result of such “cold turkey” measures be damned. With their pet politicians and legions of Facebook followers, they’ve built their fortifications on the left side of the canyon. On the right side Koch funded contingents of the Flat Earth Society, south Florida real estate hacks, and big oil have built their own fortifications, determined to ignore global warming until the oceans rise and drown them.

With both sides secure in their poor excuses for “science” and so far apart ideologically, not even the instant explosion  of a  for real 100+ car unit train of crude spiked with some particularly nervous lighter gases is going to move them from their worlds apart positions. None the less, I’ve spent the last few days braving the abyss, studying up on blast zones, derailment dynamics, and remote fire sensing tied to reverse 911 and social media alerting systems. Then it hit me: “A recent report prepared by several state agencies shows that about 3.3 million barrels of crude oil cross Minnesota every day. About 80 percent of that oil is being transported by pipeline. The rest moves by train.” Thanks to Minnesota Public Radio for that strategic snippet.

So the unit oil trains are essentiality “peakers”, very profitably hauling the overflows the pipelines can’t handle. Reduce crude oil consumption by 20% and the oil trains disappear, or haul ethanol or biodiesel instead. Actually, the repurposed oil trains would be making shorter hauls of those biofuels, because unlike dead dinosaur derived fuels which are concentrated in a few  oilfields, biomass is just about all over the planet. And the switchover would be relatively painless- most gas engined cars and trucks on the road can adapt to up to 30% ethanol, and up here in the frozen north of Minnesota many fleets are running on 20% biodiesel winter and summer. And unlike dead dino fuels, biofuels are darn near carbon neutral- the soy beans, rapeseed, corn, etc. they’re made from consume carbon as they grow.

That’s just the beginning… Bring on the energy conservation! Drag the gas guzzler tax threshold up to 10 liters/100 kilometers (24 MPG), with exception for bona fide occupational need for one of the full size pickups that baby boomers so love. Scania has a production truck that get’s 10 MPG at 40 METRIC tons, why are our 10% lighter ‘merican trucks stuck at 6 MPG? And IIRC, BNSF is competing with UP to be the country’s if not the world’s 2nd biggest consumer of diesel fuel behind the U.S. Navy, and doesn’t corporate parent Berkshire Hathaway own a big electric power company with a huge renewable capacity too? BNSF’s 4 track “raceway” across Illinois ought to provide an adequate ROI to justify electrification. And for the branch lines, between natural gas which BNSF is now experimenting with and the stronger than 20% biodiesel blends a buyer BNSF’s size can get would have even the pipelines suckin’ air!

And if we can find “adaptive reuses” for containers, DOT111’s should be no problem…

The plan was to spend a day at the Work Truck Show in Indianapolis on the way home from Florida. Unfortunately some hot moist air from the Gulf met up with some frigid arctic air along a New Mexico to New England track, dumping over a foot of snow in Kentucky and freezing rain and lesser snow along the rest of the storm track. Precipitation of the solid variety and states south of the Mason-Dixon line do not go well together, so following the most excellent graphical forecasts provided by the National Weather Service I made an end run around the west end of the storm via Louisiana. NWS pegged this storm with their forecast, and following their forecasts I had dry roads all the way… Your tax dollars at work!

Back to the Work Truck Show, brought to you by the National Truck Equipment Association (NTEA). In an age when all too many “trade associations” are thinly veiled lobbying operations pimping their industry to the politicians, NTEA is educating it’s members and setting standards all about the art and science of properly mounting the stuff that does the work on the trucks that haul that stuff around. And unlike the Koch and big oil funded “educational charities” that preach climate change denial, the NTEA is seriously green, to the point of offering a two day “Green Truck Summit” that runs just before the show and organizing a green truck “ride and drive” event where the makers can show off their developments and the customers and media can sample them. And last but not least, NTEA appreciates bloggers, giving us pretty much the run of the place just like the traditional media. NTEA, sorry I couldn’t make it, I’ll try again next year.

NTEA does such a great job of helping the media with onsite photos and forwarded PRs that I could have just written a whole story on the show and never let on that I wasn’t even there… Heck, the dead tree media got away with that for decades. Remember my last post of the 4 am e-mail party invite? It was followed by another one at 5:30 before somebody caught that media fail, and it came from a mainstream PR shop that was charged with promoting a truck electrification kit. Such is the high stakes and high hype in the hybrid/electric truck market, where investors and execs with fantasies of being the next Tesla are cranking up the PR voltage in hopes of a market breakthrough. thus the show saw hydraulic hybrid, capacitor hybrid, and pure electric modifications of the near generic Ford step van chassis. Best of luck to them all, but Tesla has yet to attain sustainable market penetration, and Eaton’s reputed tire smokin’ hydraulic hybrid garbage truck drivetrain and their market share leadership will be hard to beat. And while the electric truck maker’s PR machine was braggin’ up a multi unit sale to major step van user Ameripride, a natural gas conversion kit supplier was also bragging up a multi unit sale of their product to the same Ameripride… Clearly, the users are still experimenting and sampling the market before deciding on a technology.

But the small stuff was the big news of the show. For a start, the new (to this market) Ford Transit and Dodge vans are selling well, so every up fitter is making stuff for them- propane and natural gas conversions, cargo control stuff, ladder racks, etc.. There was unexpected innovation to- upscaling the Polaris UTV mounted all purpose “power pack” generator/air compressor/etc. to big truck size, Miller of welder fame is offering a 20 odd horsepower diesel engined multifunction power pack that can do all the same stuff, allowing the trucks much bigger (and thirstier) engine to be shut off. Toward the same goal of keeping that big ‘ol truck engine from idling all day, International introduced a software upgrade for their engines that starts the engine when the cab gets cold or the batteries get low, then shuts the engine down when the cab is toasty warm and batteries topped off. Amazing what can be done with a few software hacks… Now why can’t every engine offer these clean, green, and practical features?

Back on the road, I again tolerated McDonalds in exchange for their WiFi, which is now fairly reliable. The food though, was predictably unpredictable, with almost every single order screwed up in some way(s). With competitors now offering free WiFi along with better food, the flow of red ink at McDonalds is probably only just beginning. I’d almost forgiven Motel 6 for past offenses as they’ve been reflagging some of the conglomerate’s upmarket properties as Motel 6s… $40 a night for a decent room and free WiFi ain’t bad. But in Texarkana I was reminded that the Motel 6 management is still clueless… They’d reflagged an exterior entry motel and given it the standard Motel 6 “upgrades” of cheap ‘n’ cheerful new furniture and flooring. But the building was so structurally decrepit that daylight shown through the door jam and the movement of anything of mass shook the whole structure… The past it’s prime motel proper should have been demolished and replaced with a new interior hall structure with central HVAC and actual insulation in the walls and ceilings! With all the noise and nocturnal noisemaking naughtiness that exterior entry motels promote I didn’t get to sleep ’til after midnight. Thus got a late start next day and drove the final near 900 hours home in 15 hours.

Got the car unloaded, made a Costco run, and picked up the ’15 tabs for the Minnesota bikes. Rode ’bout 50 miles in the 50s today, maybe ride over to the Guzzi dealer and see if I can work a deal on a way leftover ’11 Guzzi Stelvio tomorrow…

PR Missive received at 4 am this morning, they still drinkin’ from last night? Or maybe starting early…

“Please stop by for a drink on us right now and learn how Motiv is leading in the electric truck market!

(PR hack’s name redacted to protect the guilty)

Previous message below:

Hi Diana,

Happy WTS15! AmeriPride has ordered 6 all-electric F59 chassis for walk-in vans from Motiv Power Systems. You can check out the first one at booth #501. Also, we’re having a happy hour TONIGHT @ 5pm. Please join us for a drink on us!

The new zero-electric F59 chassis option opens up a wide variety of vehicles for electrification, from delivery trucks and food trucks, to refrigerated trucks, tool trucks and even a type B School bus. Press release below.

Are you curious to learn more about how Motiv can electrify any truck and by working within the commercial trucking system, instead of outside of it?”

Maybe I had these electric vehicle people pegged all wrong… Out for a jog or yoga at Happy Hour time, followed by a light dinner of organic whole grain brown rice served on tofu, with fresh squeezed fruit juice beverages… NOT! Heck, maybe this is the image the lumbering and staid electric vehicle biz needs, an image of party animals keeping the truck show display open ‘n’ hoppin’ all night, ready to seduce a firm order from a drunken fleet manager just as the sun rises over the Indy convention center. Heck, could even do some “product placement” in the next “bootleggers” reality show, with shower of sparks filled scenes of the bootlegger’s electric truck stealing a recharge from remote power lines, then quietly slipping past the revenuers…

In the meantime, might want to equip the show’s “ride and drive” event with a breathalyzer…

The empty canvas, AKA “tabula rosa”:  DSC_3762

You’d probably guess the task will be to put some sort of useful container on the sidecar’s bare frame, but actually the box will just cover the wheel and extend over the right side of the sidecar- The space between the sidecar wheel and bike’s will be left open so the outfit’s carpenter owner can transport materials. Jigging up the pieces:

DSC_3764Yup, that’s aluminum, and not a riveting tool in sight! I’m a welding virgin (save for spot welders) and the bikes owner, Florida Air Marshall Kevin Reimer, welded up the sturdy steel frame. But Roger is the best and maybe only aluminum welder in our Florida Airhead bunch, so Kevin rode the hack down to Roger’s shop in Naples to build and install the aluminum cargo box. Which is now beginning to look like a box:


Interesting to see the quality welding that can be done with a modern consumer grade welder, operated with some considerable care!

The not quite finished product:

DSC_3788The aluminum sheet intended to be the lid was a bit small, and the  supplier, a sheet metal shop that supplied the aluminum scraps on the cheap, was called off to a job out of town. The fender? Kevin’s making one out of fiberglass. But the box was complete enough to mount, install the tail lights on, and Kevin rode it homeward via an Airhead Tech Day on the other end of the state.

Being new to aluminum fabrication we took our time, measuring twice and thrice before recalculating and finally cutting. Thus the project took us four days filled with the frequent and lengthy breaks you’d expect of a bunch of retired gear heads. But it was worth every minute to produce a unique product and have a bunch a fun in the process!


Or a shot of something.

In the past couple weeks I’ve properly lambasted, roasted, and otherwise cajoled a triad of storied organizations- The Postal Service, Volvo and their Mack trucks operation in particular, and the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America (MOA). That’s a journalist’s duty… “To comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable”. With all too many professional journalists now being forced to cowtow to the advertising departments, that duty has fallen on us lowly underpaid bloggers… And we relish it!

‘Bout the time I was dissecting the old age maladies of the Postal Service fleet, they popped a lengthy request for proposals with general specs for the replacement for the aging LLV vans. Skimming over the lengthy tome, it looks like they want a full size step van, with a 6 foot wide and 9 foot long floor area with stand up height, perhaps to carry APCs? They also want right hand drive, a completely rustproof body, the option of four wheel drive, and they hinted at a hybrid feature too… And they want 180,000 of them built in what sounds like only 7 or so years! I don’t know if they’ve been pricing step vans lately, but we’re pretty much down to one supplier, they’re rather busy, and even in those volumes with a garden variety gas engine a price of over $50k apiece is to be expected. That’s over a billion dollars a year, though some of that cost would be offset by lower repair costs… Hopefully the Postal Service still has good credit at the U.S. Treasury, and I suspect at least the sane bidders will price in the possibility that the order might get cancelled before it’s completed. Then again, wouldn’t be too hard to adapt a cube van box to the new F150’s aluminum cab, and I suspect Ford has already engineered the right hand drive…

The nice folks at Volvo’s Mack operation have advised me that the website’s techy gear head spec content will be improving. and that’s good to hear. If you weren’t familiar with Mack you might peruse their web page and assume that only a limited range of options are available, then surf over to a competitor and buy something there. Happened to some family farmers I know, their first choice was a new Mack truck because they liked Mack’s rear suspension and double reduction axles. Upon visiting the Mack dealer to buy said new truck they were wrongly told that option was no longer available, and they bought a Peterbuilt instead, Today you can still buy a new Mack truck with a Maxidyne engine, Maxitorque transmission, and legendary Mack double reduction drive axles and bogie, just like the good old days of the legendary R model. Mack needs to let the world know that they don’t build generic trucks, and they’ve a host of options like sleeper cabs on vocational trucks, taller and thicker frames on highway trucks, tridem drive axles, axles built for loads far above the legal limits, etc.. At least I think so… I’m going by spec sheets from a couple years ago scattered about the web and internet chatter.

Eager to dig deeper into the BMWMOA story, I took advantage of their free trial membership so I could read the board meeting minutes and their online club business discussion. The news is good and bad- They cut costs to match they’re declining membership, so they’re solvent for now. But they’re losing around 5,000 of their 30,000 members a year, and they can’t afford that forever. Doing a bit of amateur forsenic accounting from the skimpy numbers available, it looks like the rally has become a good sized profit center for the club, though smaller than memberships and magazine advertising. And despite the degree to which they’ve been pimped, the all-in tours aren’t making much money… I hope they’re at least having fun. Apparently I’ve not been the only complainer, because some positive changes have been made- the website has been toned down and the link to the events schedule with the local rallies we love has been restored, and this years rally will offer a one day only admission package. But they had to maintain the BMW image and attitude, so the cost will be $30!

Hunter S. Thompson woulda loved this place… If he were still ridin’ with us today, would he have stuck with the Duc and be on a Multistrada, or changed with the times to a KTM or Ural?

First off, to appease any concerns, I wasn’t directly involved in the crash. However, I could probably be cited as an accessory both before and after the fact, but the officer responding to the scene didn’t seem interested in writing tickets, so I need not wait out the tolling of the statute of limitations before committing the dirty details to posterity, or at least the internet. The “directly involved” is recovering, assuming he survives the shock of seeing the bill for the ‘copter ride to the hospital. Oh, and the parts fallin’ off… If you got a 6mm by 20mm long bolt or two through your tire on Sabel Pine Road, Collier Boulevard, or US 41 lately… I might take responsibility for it. The official Florida Winter Rally bottle opener and keychain and the taillight and rear turn signals found happy “nesting” points to rest on the bike, and were readily reattached with cable ties and electrical tape. The trunk lock probably lodged in the trunk somewhere, I haven’t looked yet, having the better part of a pack of a hundred cable ties yet in inventory. Back to our lead story…

Let me set the scene… Florida from Disney World south is a swamp, with the exception of thin ridges along the eastern and western coasts. Said coastal ridges quickly fell victim to the developers, and even the late bloomer Gulf Coast is pretty much the turf of multi-millionaires, the millionaires having been relegated to the inland condos and six figure motor homes for the clever ones. Theoretically there are public beaches, but if you don’t pay real estate taxes here they want $50 a year for a beach parking permit, or else feed the meters. Otherwise, it’s just a warm and flat hundreds of miles long suburb like any other, ‘cept for all the rich octogenarians fouling the plugs on six figure luxury and sports cars, and I hear they have ‘hoods in Miami, but I don’t go there much. Rapidly running out of ridge, the developers then proceeded to persuade us taxpayers to attempt to drain the swamp, with occasional success. Or spectactular failures, like the failed “Golden Gate Estates” housing development that left us the bare bones of a several thousand acre city, with dirt, gravel, and the odd paved and potholed roads to nowhere, out in the middle of nowhere. This questionable “asset” was soon put to use by drug runners, who found the miles long roads wide and sturdy enough to handle a DC-3 “freighter” while the conveniently located Gulf allowed said drug runners to go “multimodal”. The drug markets and logistics paths having shifted, the ADV dual sport motorcyclist crowd has discovered these ruins of a road system, and put them to use. Meanwhile, the state bought up much of the failed development and turned it into an underfunded state forest, while “the Corps” made plowing the roads back into the ditches that drained the area into a multi billion dollar “Comprehensive Everglades Recovery Project (CERP).” Thus our dual sport riders are greeted by unmaintained and unpredictable road surfaces, interupted by massive new pump stations, levees, and “spreader canals” and the construction machinery building them. Throw in the spotty cell phone service, dozen or more miles to the Forest Service compound and EMTs, and the long ‘copter ride to the nearest level 1 trauma center in Miami… And this clearly ain’t our private MX track!

So based on a thread over on advrider.com, I show up for a pre-ride breakfast on the edge of the park, expecting the usual elder and full figured GSA riders that I have a chance of keeping up with on my underpowered ‘hack rig on street tires. Given how a couple guys on Urals motored right on by the GSA boys who were literally falling all over themselves in the sugar sand on a ride through the area last year, that was a realistic expectation. Instead, I found one parking spot jammed with a KLR, DR, and at least one of those orange things that go fast and are unfairly way too tall for me. Inside, they devoured breakfast… A self respecting GSA poseur would have leisurely worked their way through all those eggs and sausage and such, then loitered for at least another cup of coffee. I lowered expectations, saying I wouldn’t mind at all if they lost me…

DSC_3753Our cast of characters.

Everybody behaved them selves pretty well on the paved road headin’ into the place, even had a four wheeler pass us. But once the pavement ended, the pace picked up to 60 or so, a decent ‘hack outfit can do that on gravel roads all day. We stopped at the park “gate” here and duly paid our $2 fees, then headed on at similar pace. I took exception to said pace when they turned off on a two rut cowtrail, slowing to 30 or so in deference to whatever potholes and bumps might be hiding in the vegetation. We last met up when they pulled off through a ditch, probably could have diagaonalled through it but didn’t want to chance it. I told them not to wait for me, and they didn’t… Back on the “main” road I slowed in deference to the occasional foot deep pothole, and they sped on. I rode around looking for a viable route to one of the other exits from the area, Janes Memorial Drive, with no success, then headed back to the Forestry Service compound/picnic area/campground for a break.

Was munchin’ on a bar and surfing’ the web when two Forest Service fire rigs headed out, lights and sirens. The Forest Service two way radio was sorta audible from my picnic table, and a couple minutes later I heard “accident on Merritt”, then “get out your EMT kit” from the first to the second Ranger arriving on the scene. Merritt is closed for construction, even got security guards at the gates to make sure you don’t wander back there. Headed over that way and talked to the guard at the gate, a nice guy and a rider. He told me he thought it was a motorcycle accident, and he’d let four emergency vehicles through, including an ambulance. Here’s a better description of the accident scene and discussion since on ADVrider: http://advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=368848&page=185  It’s starts on page 185 on the “S.W. Florida rides thread in the “Flatistan” section of the regional rides section, in case the link goes dead.

So we’ve got 3 riders crashed, one requiring a ‘copter Medivac and the response time was measured in hours. Be careful out there…

DSC_3757Yup, went through Minneapolis 554 Processing and Distribution Center (P&DC) on January 3rd, disappeared for most of the month, then got shipped out of 553 (western suburbs of Minneapolis) on the 30th and was finally delivered here in 34114 (eastern suburbs of Naples) on February 5th! Yup, a month and a couple of days to cross barely half the country… The Pony Express could have beat that! What the heck has happened to the world’s best Postal Service?

I’ve worked for both Hostess and the Postal Service, and their lives and declines were quite similar. Heck, Hostess even appears to have sized their bread and cake and the “enrobed” cartons they shipped it in to fit in the same Railway Post Office spaces as letters in “sleeves”. Both were capital intensive low margin businesses, and both are a easier and cheaper to fix than to shut down. To give an example, over two years after the Hostess bankruptcy, the administrators still haven’t been able to track down all of Hostess thousands of trucks and trailers, never mind all of the hundred thousand shelves on wheels (“racks”) that were used to carry bread and cake on those trucks and trailers. The Postal equivalent of a “rack” is an “All Purpose Carrier” (“APC”) and they’re like a rack that died and went to heaven, and if the Postal Service goes bankrupt they’ll probably go for scrap metal prices too… If they ever find them all.

Which explains why whole industries of scrappers, salvagers, and similar corporate vultures as well as Fed Ex and UPS’s lobbyists would just as soon see the Postal Service laid bare for the taking in bankruptcy court. They’re being assisted by Postal execs who exemplify the “Peter Principle”, and have long since been promoted above the low limits of their ability. Thus we find a nationwide network of world class mail sorting centers being gutted, because said “in over their head” postal execs think they should be closed and the mail hauled hundreds of miles away to other centers because the sorting centers aren’t being “utilized” dang near 24 hours a day. This managerial brilliance results in mail taking days longer to arrive, while the abandoned sorting centers sit idle and deteriorating, because there’s little market for million dollar mail sorting machines. Thus a recent First Class lettered mailed in Sarasota took five days to travel the mere hundred miles to Naples, probably passing closed sorting centers and making it’s way via Tampa, and maybe Orlando and Miami too.

Maybe spent some time on a broken down truck, too… As the bankruptcy was filed, Hostess’ average truck was 18 years old, and with rare exceptions the newest trucks were 2004 models. The Postal Service last bought new big trucks and trailers in 2006, and some of them get worked near 24 hours a day and are overdue for replacement. And like Hostess, the Postal Service is expensively supplementing it’s fleet with rentals, though at least they signed a cheaper long term contract instead of the daily rental rates that helped bleed Hostess to death. It get’s worse… You know those little step van “Long Life Vehicles” (“LLVs”)?  The first number of an LLV’s fleet number is the year it was built, if it’s a “7” you’re looking at a first year ’87 model, now 28 years old, If it’s a “4”, it’s a ’94, the last year they were built. The Postal Service has more LLVs than just about anything else with wheels and a motor, which means the the 24 year average age of the LLVs is pretty much the average fleet age. The LLV was designed to last 24 years, and those same postal execs have decreed that they’ll now last 30 years. And despite the years long process required to design and tool up a replacement, the Postal Service ain’t even started on the project. That means Postal Service mechanics are taking on expensive tasks like replacing rusted out frames, which is essentially dismantling and then assembling a new vehicle, without benefit of an assembly line. Cost? About the same as a new loaded minivan!

Now granted, much of the Postal Service’s red ink is the result of some downright dirty requirements that the Postal Service fully fund their employee’s retirement health care, ON THE DAY THE EMPLOYEE IS HIRED. But self inflicted wounds like Postal Service (mis)management’s logistics looniness don’t help any. Worse yet, the cuts in service standards drive away business- Mail forwarding is now so unreliable and unpredictable that I’m now forced to do all my financial transactions online so I can be assured of getting statements by tax time… Otherwise I’d have to endure a Florida summer to wait for all my winter mail to got here! And given that the Work Truck Show has made the mistake of giving me a press pass entitling me to the best free lunch Indianapolis Convention Center’s commissary can provide and lesser perks, courtesy of Ford, I dang well intend to be in Indy before the show packs up on March 6th instead of waiting for waylaid mail in Florida!


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