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January 15, 2016

Twiddling the Twin Stick

David McNeill executes the through-the-wheel compound shift
that allows a shift in the main transmission and the auxiliary
at almost the same time,  
Now here’s one for you old truck lovers: a Bubblenose Kenworth with a two-stick 4x4 Spicer transmission. Driven by David McNeill, the video shows his skill shifting the main and auxiliary transmission in this 1955 Kenworth 523 cabover with Small Cam 350 Cummins power.

The video shows him tiptoeing the old Bullnose out from his Louisiana field where the most amazing assortment of trucking history is quietly rusting away. The camera shows the progression of the shifting of this two-stick, with the “round-the-houses” shift pattern of the auxiliary and the first compound shift of one to two in the main transmission and back to second gear in the auxiliary. And watch his left leg: after getting under way, he leaves the clutch well alone through all the shifts, as one should with this transmission setup.

I remember the time I drove a two-stick Pete 359 back in 1986 – 30 years ago! I picked up the new truck with a 6 and 4 from what was Engs Peterbilt in Pico Rivera, California. I also tiptoed, out of the dealership and around the corner and parked the truck. Then I got the transmission manuals out of the glovebox and armed with a pocket calculator, worked out the ratios for each gear position of the six ratios in the main transmission and four in the auxiliary – a total of 24 gear pairs.

The auxiliary had four ratios that included two under-drives (a granny low and regular underdrive ratios), a direct and an overdrive. In most cases, the granny low combination gear position in one gear of the main transmission was approximately the same ratio as the overdrive in the previous gear.

So in starting out when coupled to my loaded trailer, the sequence was to select first in the main transmission and first in the auxiliary. Next was a shift straight back to second in the auxiliary, third was over to the companion slot in the aux and fourth was up toward the dash, all the while in the auxiliary trans.

The next shift was the compound, grabbing second gear in the main box and second in the aux. This has to be completed in a strict sequence because you never want to have two neutrals at the same time as you’ll never find a gear.

This Pete 359 featured a six and four. I had to calculate
the gear ratio pairs to know how to shift it.
So the main trans is shifted to second, then immediately the aux is shifted back to second. Old hands like David McMcNeill in the video did this by slipping the left arm through the steering wheel to work the main shift lever, using the right hand to grab the auxiliary. I contented myself with using just the right hand but getting through the shift as quickly as possible.

On a grade like the Grapevine heading out of Los Angeles going north, when doing a compound upshift I found going for the first gear in the aux while upshifting the main gave me around the same ratio I’d just left, which was OK as the speed had rolled off during the shift.

Great care had to be taken on the downgrade side heading for Bakersfield as it is steep and goes down for about 10 miles. Just the place not to be caught with two neutrals and no gear to be found! My old test route then headed over Tehachapi to Mojave, doing it all again, then south to the starting point at the Ontario, California, TA truckstop.

That Pete was a terrific truck, really comfortable but with the over-stiff front suspension that was a feature of Petes back then. It became over-excited on I-10’s concrete surfaces, making it impossible to hold, let alone drink, a cup of coffee. But even so, the experience was amazing.

Shifting the transmissions has proven an enduring memory, especially against the background of today’s automated manual Eaton Ultrashift and Volvo iShift transmissions. With these, you sit back and let the truck decide what gear it wants and take itself there. Better, probably, safer, for sure. But memorable? Not so much ...

January 13, 2016

Introducing a More Modern, Comfortable, Connected Ridgeline

This week saw the much anticipated launch of the Honda Ridgeline replacement at the Detroit Auto Show, due on sale in the spring. It follows closely the unique car-like package of the previous model, while introducing a more modern, comfortable and connected pickup targeted at the customer who needs an occasional-use truck without spending the escalated megabucks that pickups lately command.

It is based on a unibody design yet has all the practicality of a midsized conventional body-on-frame truck like the Colorado/Canyon pair from GM or the Tacoma or Frontier. In truth, it is closer to my El Camino that I drive on a daily basis, except it has four/five seating and four doors. And it’s a 2017 model instead of a 1987.

It’s in the truck bed that the Ridgeline excels, with a two-way opening tailgate, a secure cavernous trunk in the floor of the bed that also gives access to the spare wheel and, on the new model, six speakers in the bed for those tailgating parties.

In fact, it is ideal for the purpose as there’s an optional 400-watt AC power inverter and the trunk can be filled with ice for those cold ones! It even has a drain plug to let out the water when the party’s over!

But it is really about the practicality of the full four doors and a very usable pickup bed. At the auto show launch, John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda Motor said "We think we've got a better idea, a truck that uses its unibody construction and Honda packaging magic to deliver more of the things that many of today's truck customers want and need with none of the things they don't."

The Ridgeline is reported to have more interior room than other mid-sized competitors and certainly more innovation in the truck bed.

Bullet points from the announcement:

        Superior on-road performance – with the segment's best handling, ride quality, cabin quietness and all-weather traction capabilities – courtesy of its unibody construction, sophisticated chassis, and available i-VTM4 torque-vectoring AWD system
        Class-leading space – with the largest and most versatile cabin and the only 4-foot-wide flat bed space in the midsize pickup segment, along with payload capacity rivaling top competitors
        Targeted top-in-class acceleration, EPA fuel economy ratings and third-party collision safety ratings, and featuring Honda's next-generation ACE body structure and available Honda Sensing suite of safety and driver-assist technologies
        Leading edge connectivity with 8-inch Display Audio featuring Apple Car Play and Android Auto compatibility.

The Ridgeline will also offer payload capacity rivaling top competitors, approaching 1,600 pounds, with final specifications to be released closer to launch.

The Ridgeline will be powered by a 3.5-liter, direct-injected i-VTEC V-6 engine mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission, providing claimed top-in-class powertrain refinement and targeting best-in-class acceleration performance and segment-leading EPA fuel economy ratings.

Honda Sensing technologies available on the 2017 Ridgeline include lane departure warning, collision mitigation braking, collision warning, steering intervention for lane keeping assistance.  All Ridgeline models will feature a multi-angle rear-view camera as standard equipment and upper trims will be available with either Honda LaneWatch or Blind Spot Information system.

January 11, 2016

Saving a Buck Buying Used

There’s a cool money-saving site that you may find worth a look if you are maintaining heavy trucks or equipment. 

Truck Parts Inventory (TPI) is an organization that acts as a clearing house for used salvage truck parts around the United States and Canada. It’s Internet-based and serves as the pipeline into a huge database of used parts. All listings and transactions are done over the Internet at and deliveries are made by negotiated freight arrangements to any destination, depending on the urgency of the demand.

The interesting thing is that because the site is a consolidator of more than 100 used parts locations, there is a huge inventory of cataloged parts. The site boasts 669,000 parts, all of them for heavy-duty trucks with some suppliers also listing off-highway equipment parts.

And you can sign up as a user of used parts or a seller – just the thing if you have some old equipment sitting at a terminal that you just don’t know what to do with.

It’s a subscription service for the sellers, so you don’t have any cost for searching and ordering parts.  For truck service locations it can be a great resource, because their customers can have a choice of new, reman, aftermarket or good used parts with pricing according to the parts source.

According to the administrator Scott Tetz, TPI is easy to search. He says the site is fast and responsive, it’s free and, at the end of the day, it can save you a bunch of money.

At the website are logos for companies using the service and you see names like Penske and Waste Management, so it’s no small operation and, in fact, has been around for 20 years. 

So if you’re stuck for a part that may be on back order or just want to see if you can beat the price of new or reman parts, give it a shot. It could be a useful resource on your Rolodex.