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Legal Weight Loads Benefit Truckers

Truckers for forest products industry optimize loads with Vulcan On-Board Scales

By Diane Calabrese
Date Posted: 6/1/2004


There is nothing like a few extra pounds to attract attention — make that negative attention.

      Count truckers among those who do not want to carry extra weight. It has nothing to do with vanity, though.

      In recent years, the state-level counterparts of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) have been aggressive in their pursuit of overweight vehicles. Yes, there are established weigh stations. Yet there is no predicting where and when a checkpoint will be set up. Armed with portable scales, state highway officials are ready to take over a lane and begin checks virtually anywhere and any time.

      Fines add up quickly. Then, too, the cost of fuel needed to carry overweight loads becomes increasingly significant by the day. And in one all too familiar scenario from the timber industry, some mills will not unload overweight trucks. That means taking the truck back to the source to off-load until the truck is of legal weight. For some haulers, a mill rejection can mean traversing 100 miles or more, using more fuel and losing income every mile of the way.

      Charles D. Hoover, owner of Charles D. Hoover Inc. in Monticello, Ark., knows firsthand how quickly expenses can add up in order to meet strict weight limits at mills. In the late 1990s, he said, the mills to which he had been hauling began to get serious about upper limits for loads they accept.

      “Heavy loads were tearing up their equipment,” said Charles. “The mills had gone to weight limits. We were going back to the woods and unloading.” Not only unloading, he explained, but eventually being so conservative and cautious he was actually under-loading.

      By 1999, Charles, who has been hauling saw logs and pulpwood for 20 years, decided the only way to get the optimum weight on each truck was to invest in on-board scales. So he purchased Vulcan On-Board Scales, which are manufactured by Stress-Tek, Inc., a company headquartered in Kent, Wash.

      “I did business with Pine Bluff Trailer (in Pine Bluff, Ark.) for a long time,” said Charles. “I think they are the oldest” Vulcan dealer. “Trust in the dealer” was the single most important reason for choosing Vulcan scales the first time, he said.

      Today, Charles is so committed to Vulcan On-Board Scales that they are part of the purchase of any new truck. “I’ve got five trucks and trailers,” he explained.  “I don’t even buy a truck without putting on scales.”

      In the past, said Charles, he would typically “leave the woods two or three tons light” in order to be sure he was within weight limits set by mills. The monetary loss on hauling light loads is a thing of the past, and he is happy about that. The mills are pleased to get a load they can accept and, of course, the DOT responds positively.

      Arkansas road weight limits are 85,000 pounds year-around. Although he never hauled overweight, Charles would still get stopped in state pull-overs, the way that all truckers do. Now, he said, he is confident enough in the accuracy of the weight readings from the Vulcan On-Board Scales to challenge any suggestion that he is overweight.

      “It’s all portable scales” that the state uses, said Charles. In a telling case, one of his drivers was told he was 10,000 or 12,000 pounds over. “The driver said, ‘No way!’” explained Charles. The officer rechecked his math and found the driver was right.

      Like Charles, John Ostendorf of Ostendorf Trucking in Effie, Minn., appreciates being able to get as close as possible to the legal road limit and still stay under the weight. John has been hauling logs for 25 years and also does some log brokering. He attributes the precision in weighing to the Vulcan On-Board scales that he installed in early 2003.

      “I feel like they paid for themselves” almost immediately, said John. “I gained more by always hauling the maximum I was allowed to haul. Where they’ve really made a difference,” he explained, is that “I always have a full load.”

      In Minnesota, the legal weight limit changes with the season. “Generally speaking, we’re allowed to have 80,000 pounds in summer and 88,000 in winter,” said John, with some additional restrictions for smaller roads. “The state of Minnesota is getting real tough on overload laws,” he added.

      In the course of his years in business, John said he sees the Vulcan On-Board Scales as one of the best investments he has made. “I’m really pleased,” he explained. “It’s one of the few things that lives up to the advertising.”

      Temperatures in Minnesota can range in the extremes, according to John — from 40 degrees below zero in winter to 90 degrees or more in the summer. So the Vulcan On-Board Scales get tested in terms of maintaining their calibration and they meet the test. They do not waver in deep cold or high heat.

      “I installed them myself,” said John, “with a few phone calls” to the manufacturer. “They’re real helpful.”

      The “good manual” from the manufacturer was almost all that was needed to install the scales, said John. For others doing their own installations, he recommends being careful with the mountings, as he was. Spray all connections, he advised, and take all the usual precautions when working with a device that depends on firm electrical connections.

      John’s observation about the strict approach the Minnesota DOT takes to weight restrictions resonates with Dan Leavitt, vice president of Reed’s Fuel & Trucking in Springfield, Ore.Oregon has gone to a zero tolerance” policy on overweight trucks, said Dan. “They will fine you if you are one pound overweight.”

      The desire to avoid fines is just one of many factors that makes Dan enthusiastic about the capabilities of Vulcan On-Board Scales. “Our trucks are double-shifted,” he explained. They run 12 loads per day. “There is just no way we could do it without electronic scales.”

      Dan’s company hauls sawmill by-products. It’s been doing so since 1940. Approximately 15 years ago, the firm put its first Vulcan On-Board scales in service. “They came on a brand new Western trailer,” explained Dan. At the time the company was using scales from another manufacturer and some problems arose with both brands.

      “Vulcan sent a representative down immediately to correct the problem,” said Dan. “Customer service got them in,” he explained, but it was the sustained good performance that made Vulcan On-Board Scales the first choice for his company from that point forward.

      Currently, Reed’s Fuel & Trucking has complete Vulcan systems — truck and trailer — on 45 of its vehicles. An additional 10 trucks and as many as 30 more trailers are also fitted with Vulcan systems.

      In Oregon, the weight limit for trucks seems quite generous at first glance. “You can run 105,500 pounds, year-around,” said Dan. But there is a complicated bridge formula that depends on the number of axles, he explained. So sensor placement options in Vulcan systems simplify compliance.

      Couple double-shifts for trucks with the new federally mandated 14-hour driver rule and the ever-increasing cost of fuel, and there is “no lee-way,” said Dan. “For the money (that a company) would spend on check-weighing” directly and through downtime to do the check, the Vulcan On-Board Scales quickly pay for themselves.

      Of course, having scales on the tractor and trailer eliminate the need to take a vehicle to certified scales to weigh. Therein is another time saver.

      Vulcan On-Board Scales can be matched with any kind of suspension. Dan’s company has both spring and air suspension systems. He said the “ease of installing” both is just one of many great features.

      Reliability is another plus. “We’re running V320,” said Dan. Once the Vulcan systems are calibrated, they are set, he explained.

      Oregon and Florida may be thousands of miles apart, but the challenges faced by truckers are similar. Independent owner-operator Crey Weston, who owns Crey Weston Transport in Morriston, Fla., has been using Vulcan On-Board scales since 1997. Crey has been hauling logs, predominantly pine, since 1994.

      As for why he adopted Vulcan On-Board scales, Crey was candid. “That’s a no-brainer,” he said. “Money.”

      Crey explained that even if the logger paid the fines for an overweight load, as the loggers he hauled for did, the penalties still cost him too much time. “Down here, I was hauling for a logger who paid by the mile,” he explained. “They will pay the overweight fine.”

      But Crey wanted control of his truck. He lost time because he was cited for being overweight; officers recognized him and stopped him repeatedly. He initially chose Vulcan On-Board scales because of the convenient location of a dealer and an introductory discount. But once he got them, he was sold on Vulcan for the long term.

      “The scales paid for themselves in 13 months,” said Crey. “Where else can you get something that pays for itself before the warranty expires?”

      In addition, the cost of the scales is tax deductible, he noted. Fines for overweight loads are not.

      Some mills in Florida accept only 86,000 pounds or less, said Crey. The 80,000-pound road weight limit gets a big bump up if there are forest fires burning in the state, going to 95,000 pounds. At those times, being able to balance what is in the truck with what a mill will take becomes especially important.

      Crey recently purchased a newer tractor and new four bolster trailer, and he kept the original Vulcan system, moving it to his 1996 International 9200 tractor and Pitts trailer. “I contacted Pitts first and asked them” if I could transfer the system, said Crey. “Then I contacted Jerry McCurry (at Vulcan) and asked him. He said, ‘Swap ‘em out. I would if they were mine.’ “

      Pitts welded on the equalizer hangers for the Vulcan On-Board scales system. The transfer cost him nothing more than “labor plus the cost of the hangers,” said Crey.

      Crey appreciates the flexibility the Vulcan system provides. Among the load cell and sensor types that Vulcan offers are pressure, shear pin, single point, fifth wheel, trunnion and fifth fork. Vulcan On-Board Scales developed the double shear beam load cell that is now the standard for the industry. And the center hanger load cell from Vulcan eliminates twist, a vexing mechanical phenomenon that can contribute to inaccuracy in other designs.

      Vulcan On-Board Scales has put a great deal of emphasis on making systems that are designed for the wood products industry. One scale system is made specifically for tandem wood chip trailers, for instance.

      The electronic meters that make sense of the information they receive from the sensors can be placed anywhere, although inside the cab is the preferred location. They are designed to be plug and go so that trailers and tractors can be reconfigured as needed.

      The V300 series meters that Vulcan On-Board Scales designed for truckers in the timber industry come in two-channel and four-channel models. Adjustable brightness makes them simple to use at night if they are anchored in the cab of a tractor.

      Because Crey operates locally within a 150-mile radius, he gets to know the DOT officers. “They know I run legal,” he said. He believes it helps to have the Vulcan On-Board Scales meter visible on the dashboard, enabling officers to do a quick check.

      Anything that can speed up a stop is important to the bottom line, said Crey, given that just a routine stop takes 30 to 40 minutes. “The fewer times I get stopped, the more money I make,” he explained.

      Vulcan On-Board Scales allow for each load to be optimized as close to the legal weight as possible. That is what makes them truly worthwhile, said Crey. “It’s how much money you lose by sending a light truck,” he explained, that can be very costly to a business.

      Although Vulcan On-Board Scales keep evolving, the technology itself has been around for more than 30 years. Perfecting technology has been as important to Stress-Tek as innovation has been.

      Changes in Vulcan On-Board Scales systems have taken many forms, all of them driven by putting the focus on customer need. Improved strain gauge based air sensors were added to air ride suspensions. Hydraulic sensors were developed for vehicles with hydraulic lift cylinders.

      Some trucking sectors were early adopters of on-board scales. Today, Vulcan On-Board Scales are found in all industries, from agriculture to refuse.

      With government entities from DOT to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to Homeland Security calling for more frequent checks and more consistent monitoring of commercial vehicles, truckers in all industries can expect more scrutiny. So weight verification is here to stay.

      The benefits of Vulcan On-Board Scales extend beyond those cited by Charles, John, Dan, and Crey. For example, staying legal when moving across state lines becomes easier. Safety is enhanced because drivers have better information to judge braking distance. Over the long haul, on-road safety improvements reduce liability for the entire commercial trucking industry.

      Stress-Tek, the maker of Vulcan On-Board Scales, was launched in 1978. It started out to provide professional consulting in transducer design and experimental stress analysis. The core business today is scales.

            Vulcan On-Board Scales have been installed on more then 30,000 vehicles and are used by truckers around the world.




 






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