Big Rig Survival, by R.E.V.

Virtually everything you use, have or need with the exception of the air you breath has at some point in its life been touched by a truck (aka Big Rig). Without the estimated 3.5 million truck drivers, America as we know it literally stops.          

In an emergency, whether it is natural or man made, preparedness for the truck driver is paramount. A Hurricane Katrina like situation or a economic crash as portrayed in JWR‘s novel “Patriots” allows the prepared truck driver to not only survive but possibly prosper and contribute to the revitalization of our homeland.          

Big Rig Survival can be broken down into three parts. 1) The Driver; 2) The Tractor and 3) The Trailer.          

Obviously, no matter what Big Rig combination we are talking about, without a functioning driver it is simply a free standing store open to anyone who has the determination to get in and take not only the cargo, but the cab contents as well.          

You need to take care of yourself. Physically, mentally and spiritually. If you vapor-lock because you are in poor shape, severely over weight, a heavy smoker or just plain lazy you are not going to get your cargo where it is sorely needed. You won’t get home to any loved ones you may have waiting for you and worst case, depending on what you are hauling you may hand over to an enemy not only items they sorely need, you give them at least a psychological victory if you are found by the side of the road incapacitated.          

There are many good books and sites that talk about getting into shape or staying in shape. I will only touch on some important, possibly neglected items that can easily affect a professional driver.          

The number one thing a big rig driver can do to help themselves get and stay in shape is to get off their fat butt and walk. (Preferably not in sweats and cowboy boots.) Walking is the best all around exercise one can do. Start with short distances and expand from there. Park your rig in the back of the truck stop and walk to the convenience store. Not only will it help your health, your rig is less likely to get damaged.          

If you are having trouble getting motivated, then get a dog. Not only do they need exercise they provide security for your tractor.          

Take care of your teeth. It may not occur to you but teeth care can save your life. An abscessed tooth, especially in the upper portion of your mouth puts infection millimeters from you brain. Ignoring it is not only painful, it has killed truck drivers in their bunks while they sleep. If you have all of your teeth, make sure you brush and floss. It is cheap insurance that pays tremendous dividends. If you have a cavity, get it taken care of. Yes it is cheaper with dental insurance but even if it has to come out of your pocket, what is cheaper in the long run. If you have problems with your teeth or what’s left of them look to the future and what enables you to survive. Get them pulled and depending on your pocket book and insurance replace with dentures or implants. Keep this in mind though, there are pros and cons for either prosthetics. Implants require additional surgery and chances for infection. Dentures act as a covering while healing but need adhesive to act totally like the teeth they are replacing. Either make it much easier to eat.          

For those drivers who are type II diabetics, take extra care to get it under control through diet and exercise. If you do then when the medicine is no longer available you can survive since you won’t need it anymore. If you don’t it can turn into type I and insulin not only can derail your career, it will kill you when insulin is not available.          

If you wear glasses or contacts, get or keep an old pair of glasses or two. If buying new, look to getting sports or the old “birth control” glasses the military issued or some of us wore in our youth. Looking good is not a survival prerequisite.          

If you have a hernia that you’ve had for years, get it taken care of now. If your knees are bad, look to getting replacements. The prosthetics have come a long way and last much longer. Make sure you request a “sports knee”. They are closer to what god gave us and allow more freedom of movement. It is a major investment in yourself but freedom from pain medication and the ability to move in a Schumeresque situation makes it worth it.          

Mental conditioning is valuable too. As a professional, you know how to keep looking around as you drive: forward, dash left mirror, forward, right mirror and so on. You know how to watch for four-wheelers who don’t care that you can’t stop as fast as they can or can’t stand being behind you. Now you need to start expanding your situational awareness. Depending on the nature of the future emergency you may find yourself driving in, hijacking is a very real possibility. Practice scenarios in your mind for evade and escape, defensive maneuvers and offensive tactics. Relive some of those experiences where you wish you had no money cares or concern for your commercial drivers license(CDL). You may have to actually do them in a time of lawlessness. Even though real world application may not be practical at this time, visualization is a tool widely used by both the military and civilian law enforcement. Athletes of all schools use it also. If you can see it and believe it you can realize it.          

Road rage and getting mad at everything and everybody only hurts you. We can only be responsible for ourselves. Letting others dictate our reactions to the world puts us in a poor survival mode.          

Prayer can be your most effective tool in getting on top of any situation. Whether you believe in Him or not, He believes in you and you can talk to him 24/7/365. Kneeling is not mandatory nor is closing your eyes (especially if you are driving). You can just talk. You can yell. You can say anything you want to him and he will listen. Oh, by the way. Take some time to listen. He does answer.          

Music can be a powerful tool in your physical, mental and spiritual health. Numerous studies and papers plus experience show that music affects your heartbeat, blood pressure, alpha, beta, delta and theta waves. Why do you think high school and college sports bands play while the athletes fight? The music inspires man to greater heights.          

Tractor Survival can take many forms. The number one rule in having a tractor survive in any future catastrophe is that as of 2011, have or buy a pre-EGR engine. Typically this means nothing newer than 2003. The reason being is that exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) technology is the number one cause of diesel engine problems. It is an attempt by the EPA to reduce pollution. 2004 was the first federally mandated year for EGR followed by 2007 and then [further changes in] 2010. Stricter levels of various gasses brought about selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology and today we have diesel particulate filters (DPFs) that requires diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) which means that if you don’t use the DEF your DPF will foul-up faster and your engine will de-rate. Fuel mileage has decreased since the mandate of EGR technology and overall it has hurt rather than help.          

Two ways to achieve this goal of having a truck that will have as few problems as possible: One is to buy a glider kit and put a pre-2004 engine in. It is cheaper than buying new but still around $100,000. (New will cost you $130,000-150,000.) The second is to buy a pre-2004 truck and have your engine rebuilt by a quality shop. For information on gliders and quality shops, become a “Friend of Kevin Rutherford“. His web site, has info, forums and links to products that can help your tractor last and make money while we can. Kevin Rutherford is also offering a class on big rig maintenance and repair scheduled for the spring of 2011. Being able to do your own minor repairs and preventative care is paramount to surviving where others will not.         

As far as security for yourself, your tractor/trailer and load, please listen carefully. As far as federal law goes there is no prohibition concerning carrying a firearm in your cab. Most, but not all states allow carrying of firearms in your cab also. 37 states have reciprocal agreements concerning concealed weapon permits (CWPs) with at least one other state and several honor all. Check Google for numerous information sources. Trucking companies may have prohibition on carrying firearms and there is no law saying they have to let you carry.          

As to what type of weapon, there are numerous experts that can help or advise far better than I. My simple rule is, find something comfortable and become expert in it.          

Non-firearm protection for a trucker can be a tire thumper, ball peen hammer, side handle baton (PR-24), straight baton or numerous incarnations thereof.          

Security for your tractor can be found in man’s best friend. Don’t think bigger is necessarily better. A Rottweiler can be a great deterrent but also due to it’s size be a detriment. There is only so much room in your sleeper. Plus they need a lot of food. What you are looking for is a warning system. There, a Jack Russell Terrier or miniature Dachshund are perfect. Maybe they can’t eat an assailant but that’s your job, not theirs. They will key off you and let you know if an undesirable has approached your home on wheels. One highly dismissed aspect of dogs is one your life could hinge on. Listen to them!!! You may be fooled by a person but they can’t be. Their overall senses dwarf ours and if they don’t like a person, it is 99% because that person has a hidden agenda, is plotting harm to you and yours or is just plain evil. Dogs do not lie.   Watch any post apocalyptic movie with or without zombies and you see numerous configurations of protection for a tractor/trailer. Most you cannot use on our highways at this time. Being able to work now and still be ready for what comes will take planning and providence. Remember, you will in all likelihood be on the road when TSHTF. Preparation is the watch word for survival.          

Most truckers with sleepers carry only a minimum of equipment, clothing and food. A G.O.O.D. bag you carry in a side box or under the bunk should be an absolute minimum. Being able to survive for extended lengths on the road is important to getting back home or getting to somewhere you can be safe. A little ingenuity can provide massive dividends. Setting up an inverter provides you with electrical power to use a refrigerator, microwave, crock pot and/or a electric skillet. The one drawback is you can run your batteries down overnight if you are not running the truck. One way to avoid that problem is to use a solar collector to trickle charge during the day. Small solar collectors can fit on your dash while larger ones can be mounted on top of your sleeper and provide more than a trickle.            

An APU (auxiliary power unit) can be invaluable to survival. Make sure you have one that has extra power outlets and can recharge your batteries. If $8,000-12,000 is a bit out of your reach at first, an inexpensive generator can also do most of the same things for just a few hundred dollars.          

MREs, self-heats and dehydrated foods allow you to survive but being able to eat something fresh or nicely cooked is possible with the above accouterments. Don’t forget you can cook on your diesel engine too.          

Of course tools to do repairs and other work are a must, Once you know the most common things that need doing on a big rig you can put together a tool kit or box. The main rule to follow is quality is worth the extra money. Buying “Made in China” is just asking for failure when you most need an item to work. Craftsman, Crescent, Husky and Kobalt are all top of the line tools. Snap-on, Mac and the like are up there, too.          

A little known fact is you can run almost any air tool off your big rig’s air tank. Plumbing a fitting off your air tanks is not difficult. You can even run right off your glad hands if need be. You may have to up the cutoff level on your compressor but 125 psi will not be hard to do.          

Setting up you tractor/trailer with all these additional items will cost you in weight which could affect how much you can haul which in turn could affect your pocket book. You have to decide for yourself whether the time has come for a change in priorities.          

Depending on the nature of the catastrophe, these are indispensable items:

CB Radio – preferably with Single Side Band (SSB). A multi-channel scanner; a GPS unit either hand held or dash mounted; a mobile ham radio. These and other items can be helpful and allow you to find others who might be in a similar situation.          

Your trailer and load security depends on the type of trailer you haul. Dry van, flat bed or reefer all do different things. Reefers can haul what a dry van can but also can haul produce or frozen food. You can also reverse the normal cooling and turn it into a 48 or 53 foot low heat oven. The down side is it takes diesel to run it. Depending on availability, the fuel needed to run the reefer could get you just that much further.          

A flat bed can haul irregular shaped items or oversize things like poly tanks and multiple Hummers. All trailers have their good and bad points. Securing a load on a flat bed is different than in a dry van or reefer. You can lock the doors on van trailers while flatbeds, even when tarped leave the load exposed to theft or damage. With a van trailer you can fortify the walls and rear doors for added security.          

One absolute rule you should always follow to give yourself the best chance at surviving both now and in the coming catastrophes. When it comes to tires for both tractor and trailer, virgin rubber will always beat re-caps, period. Do not run re-capped tires anywhere on your rig. Legally you can’t on the front wheels (“steers”) but anywhere can lead to failure at the most inopportune time. Virgin rubber, unless made wrong in the factory will always outlast re-caps. Get the highest number ply tires you can get. The greater the number of plies the better, since a high-ply tire will be less likely to succumb to piercing and road damage.          

Have a plan for what and where you can go when things go bad. If you are an [unscheduled] over-the-road (OTR) driver, you might think about have multiple caches across this nation. Develop relationships with like minded individuals or trusted friends and leave pre-thought out items with them.          

There is so much more detail that could be gone into but if you have learned anything in this short dissertation, then the intent has been accomplished.          

If you are on the road when things go wrong you must decide if you are going to hunker down or head for a relative safe place. If you are prepared, physically, mentally and spiritually you can survive. Remember to always look up, so you won’t fall down.

About the Author: R.E.V. is a retired police officer/firefighter/paramedic who currently drives a big rig around our nation.