Archives for category: Uncategorized

Was perusing the Energy Department’s just released 2017 Fuel Economy Guide the other day and noticed a dearth of diesel cars. Other than Jaguar’s 5 diesel powered models which I don’t believe have even hit showrooms yet, there’s nothing listed.  Just last year we had 24 models from BMW, Mercedes, GM, Fiat Chrysler, and even Rover to choose from, even after VW’s diesels were given the boot by the EPA.

It’s already an open secret shared by displeased customers that Mercedes has pulled it’s 2017 diesel lineup. With rumors suggesting that VW may not be the only emissions cheater circulating, have most all the diesel car makers pulled their offerings before they step deeper into the do-do? Or are the EPA and CARB giving them extra scrutiny before certification, like they did last year?

And here I was, happily ready to hand over the title to my ’13 TDI for what I paid for it, assuming that I’d just turn around and buy another, then diesel on in peace for another decade or so. Perhaps EPA and CARB think that if they deny me a diesel, I’ll give in and accept one of their limited range throwaway electric cars, or at least a throwaway hybrid? Sorry, but even with hybrids being rebated down to the price of their gas equivalents I’m not about to buy a car that will annoy me with “replace hybrid battery” warnings for over half it’s time in my possession. If I’m denied a diesel, the cost of fueling a gas car makes turning in my TDI vs. letting VW “fix” it a wash. And if the EPA and CARB refuse to approve a “fix”, maybe I’ll just have to drive my “dirty diesel” another couple decades…

And did I mention that I’ve got another TDI, a 2003? And if pushed, I ‘spose I could transplant the really dirty diesel out of my ’86 Golf into bodyshell that still has a full floor, then pull out a wrench and screwdriver and crank the injection pump up to “coal roller” setting…

dsc_5337

Yes, the lowest of the tractor pullin’ trash has visited my county, again! What the lil’ pullers give up in tonnage they more than make up in action, ‘specially when the propulsion is provided by a surplus UJM 750cc. or bigger inline 4. Heck, even this what looks to be Kohler horizontal twin powered tractor ain’t doin’ too bad. With the opportunity to assist the (barely) forward motion with more than a bit of body english and rapid fire pulls, these lil’ pullers put on a good show!

dsc_5346

‘Nuf o’ the summer fun and games, y’all get back to school now…!

dsc_5331

There’s a hijab under that helmet, as Siti Fatimah Husna won the Malaysian Supermoto Championship: News story here.

Three day weekends in the industrial world were always fertile ground for mischief… I mean, when the managers are far away recreating or whatever and a skeleton crew is there to secure the factory or whatever, who can resist! Thus I’ve spent 3 day holiday weekends exploring steel mills, paper mills, bakeries, post offices and warehouses, some of which I actually was employed by at the time. And while my explorations were innocent, there was considerable opportunity to shut stuff down or turn stuff on at the wrong time that I never availed myself of.

So it was this Labor Day weekend. Started off with giant container freighter line Hanjin shutting down late friday, leaving dozens of ships and hundreds of workers stranded all over the wet part of the world. By tuesday morning it looked like they’d get around to filing a formal bankruptcy that would at least organize the chaos, with possibly Hyundai taking over. In a world where population growth is finally stalling out and markets no longer grow a couple percent a year with the population, buying a fleet of New Panamax size container ships may not have been the brightest idea.

Then early saturday morning notorious pipeline builder Energy Transfer Partners, builder of the notorious Dakota Access Pipeline, decides to forget the construction moratorium they’d agreed to while awaiting a court decision and bulldozes what appears to be a Native American cemetery. Looks like the tribal archeologist was invited to check the route of the pipeline by a farmer owner. Said archeologist did just that on friday, and found historic artifacts there. When that happens, by law construction stops while the archeologists are brought in and the artifacts are recovered and the site documented. But looks like the pipeline company, probably in something of a panic since there isn’t much Bakken oil flowing to keep a pipeline full these days, marched their bulldozers 20 miles overnight and proceeded to tear up the area where the artifacts were found less than a day before. Not satisfied to break just one federal law, the pipeline company turned loose some low rent ex-con rentacops on the unarmed Native Americans and friends who walked over to have a look at their ancestors graves being trashed. Said low rent rentacops then tried to sic some not so well trained “guard dogs” on the Native Americans. The guard dogs took off on anything available, human or animal, and probably got as many bites out of the renta cops and pipeline workers as they did their targets.That gave the tribe fodder to file for a temporary restraining order to again halt pipeline construction, and this morning the feds and more specifically the Corps of Engineers backed the tribes request for a TRO. With the bad name Energy Transfer Partners is giving pipelines, we may not see another new  oil pipeline in decades.

The Germans having done their labor day celebration back around the first of may, they were hard at work on monday. First we had rumors and then confirmation that VW Group will be fostering Navistar trucks and such with a purchase of 16% of NAV shares, and an eventual adoption is likely. This gives VW Group a continued North American market for their MAN engines and a potential source of a conventional cab truck they don’t have as well as a North American dealer network.

They didn’t knock off early in Deutchland either, with overnight rumors that Mercedes is pulling it’s diesel cars and vans from the North American market. Heard from a customer whose had a diesel Mercedes Sprinter on order for months and sounds like they’ll only build him a gasser, and not a diesel to be found of Mercedes’ car website. Mercedes is being sued for emissions cheating a la VW, is Dieselgate spreading?

Nice to return to the calm of the work week…

 

Hundred yards away out my living room windows lies a railroad mainline and trunk highway, the BNSF Marshall Subdivision and Minnesota 23 to be exact. MN 23 is an old trucker’s shortcut from the packing plants of western Minnesota to Omaha, Denver, and the huge markets of California. Thus I’m treated to a parade of over a thousand big trucks a day, usually driven by a newbie paid by the mile, making newbie mistakes and not too motivated to pursue trucking as a career. Been that way pretty much since deregulation three decades ago waved the checkered flag for an 18 wheeler race to the bottom on America’s highways.

So in the cabs of most of these trucks are often two recent grads of a one week driving school, one trying to stay awake behind the wheel and the other trying to sleep in the bunk behind. Probably in hock for several thousand dollars, which will purportedly be reinbursed by the trucking company if they last a year… It’s no coincidence that a year is how long the average driver stays with these trucking companies. The drivers are slaves to that truck and whatever freight is available going wherever, recently talked to a newbie driver who’d been forced to sit in a rest area in the middle of nowhere for a day and a half because the trucking company  was too cheap to get their drivers home or at least to a motel by the time they’d worked the legal limit of 70 hours in 5 days. The trucking company’s business plan is to cut every cost possible… Drivers, other road users, and customers be damned!

Now this truckin’ on the cheap business plan eventually backfires, as the drivers go back to minimum wage jobs where they at least get to go home at night and customers tire of poor service. With drivers that can barely make the truck go forward, never mind back up, the trucking companies go after lucrative long hauls better handled by railroads. That wears a truck out in just a few years, compounded by the trucking companies refusal to pay mechanics enough to keep them around either.Trying to keep an eye on all these newbies, the trucking companies are now piling on the electronic overseers, expensively monitoring their trucks 24/7 in hopes of at least getting some notice of when the drivers jump ship or put ‘er in the ditch or worse. The roads they run on aren’t gettin’ any better either, as the trucking companies fight any attempt to increase the fuel and registration taxes they pay.

Then after a hundred trucks or so, a train comes by. Big as a house locomotives and loud too,but otherwise not much drama…In the six years I’ve watched thousands of trains pass by, the total tally of damages has been two busted couplers between the cars. The brakes came on automatically and the disconnected cars stayed up right and on the tracks, followed by an hour or two’s delay  while repairs were made and the train inspected for damage. No surprise, because a typical railroad engineer has spent twice and more as long as a truck driver lasts on the job just training and working their way up as a conductor or brakeman before being allowed to run a train. Thanks to good union negotiated wages and benefits, they tend to be lifers, ’til pried away from the tracks by “30 and out” Railroad Retirement pensions at age 60.

Same for the surviving union trucking companies like UPS, Yellow Roadway, ABF,  and the numerous big wholesale bakeries, dairies, and grocery chains with their own Teamster driven fleets. I see them pass by every day, same driver and same time ’til retirement beckons. These unionized trucking operations let the railroads handle the long hauls, saving their skilled drivers and trucks for local pickups and deliveries that most of the trucking company’s newbie drivers can’t handle. And while much of the trucking industry is underwater in debt to the truckmaker’s finance companies (by the time Arrow trucking filed for bankruptcy and abandoned their drivers on the road, Daimler Finance was loaning them $$$ for fuel), the railroads and unionized UPS, etc. are cash cows.

Which puts the unionized railroads and trucking operations in a position to grab market share from the faltering fly by night trucking companies and save american trucking. With oil and frac sand trains parked in the sidings, the railroads have capacity to sell and are expanding services-BNSF just added daily dedicated intermodal trains from the Pacific Northwest to Denver and Texas, and more service expansions are coming. These expansions give Teamster Union organized trucking companies the opportunity to save wear and tear on their trucks and drivers by letting the railroads handle the long hauls so they can specialize in the short hauls.

Unionized railroading and trucking is good for the environment too, with trains hauling freight two, three, and four times as far on a gallon of fuel as trucks can. And with BNSF parent company Berkshire Hathaway building massive wind farms darn near in sight of the tracks, can railroad electrification with clean energy be far off? Same with the trucks bringing freight to and from the railroads- Shorter hauls means cleaner fuels like natural gas and even clean electric trucks become viable.

Union labor running our railroads and trucks: Good for America, and good for the environment!

Couple weeks back VW Group agreed to pay a $10,000,000,000+ penalty for selling a bit less than 500,000 vehicles with “cheat devices’ that allowed excessive NOx emissions. Today HOG(NYSE), better known as “Harley”, got a paltry  $12,000,000 slap on the wrist for selling 340,000 “cheat devices” and 12,000 uncertified bikes that didn’t even pretend to meet emissions standards.

So VW is getting hit for upwards of $20,000 a vehicle, while Harley is getting off for less than $40 a vehicle… I’m all for supporting American manufacturing, but this is a bit much! ‘Specially when you figure in that VW made low single digit profits on most of those cars, while HOG(NYSE) was making 30% or so profit margins on bikes that often sold for more than new VW cars.

VW, I think EPA just gave you grounds for an appeal…

DSC_5221The competition is tough for the title of “Armpit of Iowa”, but little Britt is determined to win the title. They started off over a century ago by issuing a “what were they thinking” invitation to the hobos to bring their convention to Britt every first weekend of august. Yup, too late to help with corn de-tassling and too early for harvest, and on a branch line to nowhere to boot!

So a century and change later a hobo convention purportedly still annually occurs in Britt, but given that the peak years for hoboing were the depression, they’ve had a shortage of real hobos of late. I first answered the call of the hobo convention over a decade ago, when real live hobos like Steam Train Maury and such shared their stories, and it was a treat. But anybody who rode trains back in the depression when over a million americans rode the rails in desperation has most likely already “caught the westbound”. And unlike the old days when the hordes of hobos almost overran Britt in a good way, attendance seems to have stabilized around a hundred or so.

Most of that hundred hard core “hobos” has at best only a vague connection to hoboing. We have the youthful “anarchists” who get stoned over on the west end of the “jungle”, while the better behaved and mostly senior “hobos” settle into a relatively civilized existence with a park shelter, cook shack, and even showers. To the east was relatively quiet camping, though overly lit by the City of Britt with the intent of keeping the hobos on their best behavior. Arriving at this week long event on friday ’bout dinnertime, I was stuck with accommodation at the far east end right under a streetlamp.

Now the “hobos” made a good try at putting on an evening variety show, but it mostly wasn’t an experience I’d want to repeat. That was thankfully over by 10pm, so I walked the couple blocks uptown in search of WiFi… Whole damn town, even the library, was locked down. hoping to kill off any semblance of hobos at the hobo convention for decades, they had booked a Beetles tribute band against the “hobos” variety show in the same time slot… They were no more entertaining, and fortunately only moderately amplified. But not to be outdone, the local bar had booked a slightly more talented 70s rock band, but with too much more amplification. So I retired to my tent, and by 11 I’d given up on getting any signal from both AT&T and Sprint and tried to sleep.

Now despite the volume, the 70s rock might have eventually bored me to sleep. When the band took a break, I was “serenaded” by the country muzak that some business the other side of the tracks thought their customers would appreciate. And further east, some misplaced “anarchists’ were arguing about something, perhaps which chain of gas stations it was most ethical to commit driveoffs from? The loud band finally knocked off at what must have been a liberal local enforcement of the 1a.m. bar closing time, allowing me to enjoy uninterrupted the anarchist’s growing argument. About that time I was wondering what the hell I was doing there… If the argument proceeded to the level of great bodily harm, how the hell was I going to call the police with no cell service? “S’pose I could hop on the bike and ride over to the courthouse, only to be mistaken as an attacker in this paranoid western Iowa hell hole and ventilated by the whole department’s inventory of bullets…

Sometime around 3a.m. or later the anarchists collapsed silent, and I got a couple hours of good sleep. ‘Twas a night of “good sleeping weather”, so I was able to squelch the streetlight’s over-illumination with my faithful sleeping bag. Then some “neighbors” on the other side started up… Their generator! Like I said, with few real hobos still available, the hobo convention tends to draw various misfits and “counterculture” folks with rather vague if any connection to hoboing. The noisy generator sported a heavy gauge electrical cord leading to a massive tent, out of which was clearly visible what appeared to be the vent hose of a cheapo portable air conditioner. The cord ran under a genuine Caddy hearse, and given these “neighbors” Ozzie Osborne inspired black gothish costume complete with  cape and scepter, I can see where they might desire some air conditioning. But don’t they take that stuff off at night when they’re hopefully sleeping?

Tossed fitfully ’til 7 when I got up. slammed down a Dew to reach some temporary semblance of consciousness, made myself sorta presentable, and walked the couple blocks over to the Casey’s C-Store. The best thing to happen to Britt in decades, Casey’s served up a portion uncontrolled slice a breakfast pizza that was a meal in itself. A good thing, ’cause when i got back to the “jungle” around 8 breakfast still hadn’t happened. Pretty certain that saturday would bring the parade, boredom, and a repeat of friday night, I packed up while I still had a chance of staying awake for the 200 mile ride home. As I left about 9 the anarchists were slowing awaking from the chairs they’d slept in, and the goth wannabes had yet to appear in today’s daylight…

OK Britt, quit trying so hard, you’re officially the armpit of Iowa. And “hobos”, you might want to take some lessons from the reenactors and require at least an attempt at recreating the honorable history of the great hobos of the past. And a block away from the phony jungle, a few of today’s hobos slept in their big rigs awaiting loads or travel trailers plugged into the local farm co-ops expansive buildings waiting to bring in the harvest… They’re the closest thing we’ve got to hobos anymore.