MacGyver’s Man Baptism

Forest Park, Georgia

In people years, our baby girl is 30. She needs an eye, boob and butt lift.

She has lived one third of her maximum life span. A well-preserved, good-bones truck runs 1.2 million miles. Our odometer is just shy of 400,000. We’ve driven 220,000 of those miles since October 10, 2009 and we haven’t been trying.

Lubing the tractor

Thanks to MacGyver – now equipped with dark blue Dickies coveralls, which he pulls over his instant-dry Columbia Titanium gear for driving, the wardrobe favored by foreign correspondents – we’ve made considerable improvements and easily endured unexpected repairs. She’s getting on, but she’s got much left to give.

This week we’ll get the eye lift, a new windshield. We took a rock on the bottom passenger side corner cracking it vertically six inches. It is, after all, our office window. Most drivers recommend new windshields at 350,000 miles. It will cost about $220. The boob and butt lift, new shocks on the steer axle and both drive axles is a $700 bill. We’ve been dragging, bouncing along good roads, as well as bad ones. I think we’ll sleep better.

“You’ll feel like you have a new truck,” drivers tell us.

In the Cornering Office, we’ve (meaning MacGyver mostly) has learned a lot about making a profit in a commodity business. (I’m the one who can squeeze a dime until 12-cents comes out, a skill learned from my mother.)

The only benefit that matters to customers in the world of transportation is price. How do we make money when there is constant downward price pressure. We keep our costs down.

Our single largest cost is fuel, in a busy week we can spend $2,200 in fuel. In the past year, we’ve improved our mileage from 6.1 miles per gallon to 7.4 mpg depending on load weight, terrain, wind and air temperature. On a team truck, increasing fuel mileage one/tenth of a mile per gallon can save up to $1,800 a year. We are seeing the gain in the net profit numbers each month.

Here are some of the strategies we’re using to improve fuel mileage and decrease costs.

In the photo, you’ll see (if you squint) a bright green filter. This is an OPS eco-pur filter. It’s an oil purification and bypass system. Truck makers recommend oil changes every 15,000 miles, every three weeks for a team truck. We were spending $225 a month to dump and replace eleven gallons of oil. Expensive, time consuming and bad for Mother Earth.

We installed the eco-pur in April and filled up with synthetic oil. It allows us to take a sample every 15,000 miles and send it to a lab in Indianapolis, Indiana to have it checked for metals. The oil sample tells us what’s happening in the engine. The oil can last up to 120,000 miles before it needs to be changed.

Our July 1 oil sample came back with elevated levels of lead and other minerals, which can be an indication of engine trouble, metal is being shaved off the engine somewhere and deposited into the oil.

Replacing an engine can be $20,000.

The lab said change the oil. We did. Adding another 11 gallons and almost $400 in Shell Rotella synthetic oil. We took another oil sample at 200 miles.

To be on the safe side, they said, do an overhead. An overhead is a big truck tuneup. We have sampled monthly since July and continue to monitor the situation. Cummins ISX engines of our vintage are known to have “soft cams.” It may be a problem down the road, we may need an early engine overhaul. We don’t know.

Our biggest fear is not truck problems, big trucks have issues when they are driven 15,000 miles a month, our biggest fear is breaking down on the side of the road halfway between Salt Lake City, Utah and Reno, Nevada. It is a barren, desolate moonscape with few services. Tows can cost thousands of dollars.

Last week MacGyver kicked it up a notch. Making a full filter change.

We stick post-it notes to the top of the windshield. It’s a surprisingly efficient way of keeping track of things. The tractor has a sun visor, the windshield is high, so the notes are both visible against the visor and out of the way.

McGyver’s notes note HUB miles and chores, two Friday’s ago at 387,717 miles, it was time for a complete filter change: oil filter, eco-pur filter and fuel filter. The mechanics’ trifecta worth $150 to the shop. My note says: sunscreen, vitamins, skip rope, can’t seem to remember each day.

Full with pre-Thanksgiving dinner of deli-purchased, oven-roasted Tuscan turkey and bread stuffing with Vermont cranberry maple drizzle, herb roasted red potatoes and steamed French green beans picked up at the local Giant supermarket, MacGyver slipped his Dickies on over his foreign correspondent gear and crawled under the tractor.

“I thought about it later,” he told me as he drove into Denver, “and I won’t do it like that again.”

It was the oil filter, the largest of the three, about 16 inches long and four inches in diameter that “man baptized” him. The engine takes eleven gallons of oil, at least a gallon in the filter.

Volvo trucks are notorious for their cramped engine compartments.

I stood beside the tractor holding the garbage bag. The plan was to unscrew the filter, flip it right side up, put it in the garbage bag and take it to the disposal container.

It didn’t flip. Oil gushed from the filter pouring straight down onto MacGyver’s face, down his arm and into the garbage bag and onto my new, first use, elk skin work gloves, leaving them with a Apaloosa thing going. A mess.

In the shop, the tractor is driven over a pit to drain the oil and filters.

“Next time,” he said. “I’ll put a bowl underneath, puncture the filter with a nail and let it drain then unscrew it.”

Next time? We’ll be at the shop.

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