Friday, February 27, 2009

Broken Down

Driving home from work today, I passed a broken down big rig that had pulled over to the side of the road. Me, I was eager to get home and get my weekend started. TGIF! Then as I passed the truck, I felt a great deal of sympathy for the truck driver, whoever he or she was and then almost guilty because I was almost home while this driver wasn't going anywhere.

It was dark already when I passed the truck, so I don't know if it was someone from out of state or a local truck. Being stranded only a few miles from home would be depressing, but not nearly as bad as being stranded on an unknown highway by a small town you have never heard of (and believe me, this guy was stranded exactly there), on a Friday night... which from what I understand is most people's favorite night of the week.

Whether the truck driver had to call their family who were waiting at home, eager to go out for dinner to celebrate the end of the week, or they were waiting to reach a truck stop to hang with fellow truckers and soak up some companionship after several hours on the road, breaking down would certainly mean a less than thrilling start on the weekend.
I'm fairly sure things will just roll downhill from there for awhile. Once the trucker has been rescued and the rig has been towed, no doubt there is a big repair bill waiting at the end of that tunnel and perhaps, just perhaps, the rig that was once new and shiney is participating on one of its last runs. It's sad.
Apart from feeling sad on behalf of the stranded trucker, I also felt happy in an odd sort of way. On my "My Space" profile, there is a box where I typed in "People that I admire"....
One of my answers is in fact "truckers stranded on the side of the road".

I feel that truckers make certain sacrifices in their lives on behalf of all of us. Without big rigs hauling goods up and down the interstate, what would we do? We'd have no clothes, no food, no iPods, no TVs... or if we did have these things, it would mean we had done one heck of a job fetching our items after purchasing them. What would we do? Rent a trailer and drive to Michigan for our new Ford pickup truck? Rent a car and drive to Seattle for our Microsoft Windows? (Oh, but wait...where would we get the car and the trailer from? We would have to WALK to a car plant, rent a car and then drive....oh geez! My head!)

Anyway, you get my drift? Without trucks and truck drivers, we'd be pretty screwed.

So when I see a driver stranded on the side of the road like that, I feel proud because I'm looking at a man or a woman who is hard working, who is pulling their weight in society (literally!), to make a living and make a life for themselves. In the process they are improving our lives by bringing us the goods we desire so much. And most likely, he or she loves their job. The few truck drivers I've known in my life so far, really loved their job. I totally respect that.
Far too many people are stuck in jobs they don't enjoy.

Tonight's stranded trucker was a lone one, but oftentimes I see that helpful samaritans stop to help the trucker out. Now, I am assuming that a person probably wouldn't pull over to help a big rig unless they knew something about fixing big rigs... i.e the samaritan is most likely another truck driver... Based on this, it seems to me that the comradery within the trucking business is a strong one. It's nice to see. Regardless of whether the helping hands are those of truckers or just regular passer-bys who wanted to help, it's nice to see that people are still willing to help each other out.

A couple of hours have gone by since I got home, and I hope the trucker has been rescued by now. Perhaps the broken part was a minor one that was not too expensive to fix. Hopefully it didn't put too big of a delay on his route, hopefully the dinner is still warm for him when he gets home... or perhaps there's a cold beer waiting at a truck stop somewhere, along with some good company.

(This is what I envision when I pass a stranded big rig... I guess people
have been stranded for as long as they've been able to travel :))

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Big Rig Chronicles: The Kenworth

The Kenworth. Oh I love them. Rolling down the American interstate, they are so majestic and dominate the road completely.
The big classic Kenworth grill reminds me of the Greek columns on the Parthenon. Tall and upright, giving the truck a very impressive look and quite intimidating too, should they happen to roll up on you in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

I have no idea if those Greek columns were an inspiration for the design of the truck. I do know, however, that the inspiration for the Kenworth itself was born in 1915, when the Gerlinger Motor Company blessed the world with its very first 6-cylinder truck. Although the Kenworth that is rolling down the highway today is a far more impressive sight than the Gersix they unveiled in 1915, that old truck made a powerful statement at the time it was put on the road and it became the mother of all Kenworths that were to be produced in the future.

(Gensix - photo borrowed from

When Ed Worthington decided to rent out his mother’s building to Gerlinger in 1916, I doubt he knew what an impact this decision were to have on the trucking world. As a business man, he became fascinated with the company and started studying the way it was running. The Gersix became a frequent sight on the road, especially up North where they used it for logging.
Luckily for Ed, despite the Gersix’ popularity, the company itself wasn’t doing so well and was put up for sale in 1917. Ed and his partner, Captain Frederick Kent, acquired the company together and renamed it to Gersix Motor Company.
In 1923, company growth and an increasing need for more capital made Ed and his new partner, Harry Kent (son of Frederick), reincorporate their business and they named it Kenworth. (Kent + Worthington…. Brilliant, huh? :-))

What was so unique about Kenworth back then was the fact that they went out and sold their trucks before they were built. As opposed to selling standardized trucks, like their rival truck companies, they went out and asked the customer what they wanted, then went back to the factory and customized the truck based on the buyer’s wishes. This way of doing business apparently seemed to be somewhat of a magic formula for Kenworth, because their business was growing rapidly. They even outgrew their own workspace and eventually had to move to a bigger factory in Seattle, which was big enough to accommodate future growth.

Kenworth’s ability to build custom trucks for customers helped them through the rough years that were spawned by the depression era. Forced to find new ways of survival as business declined, they started producing fire trucks in 1932. Since the rest of the truck market seemed set on standardized trucks, Kenworth had the upper hand when it came to these fire trucks because each fire chief had his own ideas regarding what he wanted on his fire truck, and Kenworth was able to accommodate the specific wishes from the fire stations.

In 1933, Kenworth developed the very first diesel driven truck in this country. Looking at all the big rigs rolling down the highways today, we can clearly see what an impact this move has had on the trucking industry as a whole and it was no doubt a great success for Kenworth back then. That same year, Kenworth also produced and sold its first sleeper cab.

In 1935, the Motor Carrier Act was passed. I may post the act itself in a blog of its own at a later time, but for now I won’t go into detail. (This post is about Kenworth after all, not about the government….)
A very brief summary of the act is that it allowed the ICC to regulate interstate trucking. The ICC could now decide which companies could become motor carriers, how much these companies could charge and what type of services they would provide.
This act enforced a lot stricter regulations on trucks regarding size and weight. Overall, the restrictions provided new challenges for the trucking industry and its manufacturers.

(A 1951 Kenworth - photo borrowed from

In all its history so far, Kenworth had never backed down from a challenge, and this time was no different. They turned the challenge into another golden accomplishment by introducing the manufacturing of aluminum truck parts, such as hubs and cabs, on their Kenworth trucks.

In 1957, Kenworth was one of the first companies to come out with the cab-over engine (COE).

Since its beginning, a variety of Kenworth models have been manufactured, and I’m not going to write about the truck models in this post, partially because I think that the Kenworth models deserve a post of their very own (maybe even 1 post per model). Also, I don’t want to make these posts too long and I want to make them focused around a particular topic, which in this post is the history of the Kenworth.

I chose to delve into this topic since Kenworth is one of my favorite trucks. I wanted to start my education with the very beginning and it was indeed an interesting lesson. Looking back at my post, it’s interesting to observe the overall development of the Kenworth over time. It just adds another dimension to the truck itself when I know more about its background and where it came from. The truck we see today is a result of collaboration of generations, through time and the cool part is, it's only going to keep getting better.

(Kenworth W900 - photo borrowed from

(Note: A lot of the info for this blog was obtained from and ... Thanks for being out there!)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Why a blog about big rigs?

Since I moved to the US, I have developed a fascination for big rigs.
I’m not sure where this fascination came from or when it was developed. The only one in my family who is a truck driver is my father’s cousin. I remember he came to visit us once as he was passing through town. He parked his rig in front of a local grocery store, and when he was leaving, my brother and I were allowed to climb up and check out his cabin. It was very cool.
I remember that. Finding a bed in the back was surprising to both of us, and we realized that the cab of a big rig is more like a small apartment. Since nobody else in my family drives a big rig and I had no other big rig experiences that I can remember, that must have been the moment when I was smitten with these big trucks. I just didn’t realize how bad it was until I moved to the United States.

I grew up in Norway, and most of our big rigs are Scanias or Volvos. Due to measuring regulations, they’re also mostly cabovers, so the variety of trucks isn’t that great there. Here in the US, the variety of trucks is huge and the customization that is performed on some of these rigs is amazing. Some truckers invest a lot of time and money into their trucks, decking them out with lights, murals, custom coloring, tall smoke stacks and polished rims. I love it. (I guess it comes as no surprise that “Trick my Truck” is one of my favorite shows…)

Despite my fascination with big rigs, since I’m not around them, I don’t have that much knowledge about them. I know the various models of course. My favorites are Kenworth and Western Star. They’re gorgeous. There’s a little game I play when I’m stuck in traffic, I try to guess the model of a big rig just by its contours before I pass it. Seems silly but it has really increased my skill in recognizing most of these trucks on the spot and it gives me something to do.

In addition to liking big rigs, I also love blogging, and I thought, what better way to learn about the ins and the outs of big rigs than to blog about them!

So that’s the brilliant basis for this blog. The intention is to learn more while blogging about a subject I like. I plan on posting random thoughts, facts and information about big rigs as I think of them. Maybe I’m the only one who will ever benefit from this blog, but I don’t really care. I’ll enjoy developing it and learning something new in the process.
Note: I'll be taking photos on my own that I will be using in my blog, but for now, I'm using photos I find on the web. If you are the owner of any of these photos & would rather not that I use them or would like me to give you the credit you deserve for your photo, please feel free to contact me. Thank you.