What a Lovely Couple

It’s scary, but people like me are now considered “old school.” Partly, that’s because we drove during a time when there seemed to be much more of a genuinely helpful camaraderie between drivers. Sure, we’d tease the hell out of one another for screwing up. But, back then, you knew that if you broke down, it wouldn’t be too long before some hand would pull over and help you out of whatever jam you were in. On more than one occasion, I was rescued thusly, and on more than one occasion I was the rescuer. As the years passed, perhaps because of the ascension of some of the mega carriers with their corporate rules, perhaps just because nothing good lasts forever, we heard more and more CB chatter about how the “new breed” (today they’d be called “steering wheel holders”) just didn’t get it. They’d breeze right by you sitting in a ditch or trying to change a frozen up filter. It felt sad, and there’s a movement to put the CB radio, and its unique ability to put drivers in touch with one another, back in to trucking.

Those old days, though, had their drawbacks, too. Then, as now, there was a lot of bad advice floating around that was taken as gospel. Perhaps the biggest was the removal or disabling of front wheel brakes. Pre-1987 or so, many drivers did this, thinking that they’d retain better control of their trucks during panic stops. The conventional wisdom was that it prevented the steers from locking up. I’d be willing to bet some old timers still believe it.  Testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealed that we were actually safer with brakes in front than without, and the DOT ordered all trucks to have properly functioning front brakes by early 1988.

That brings me to today’s topic. It concerns the trailer hand brake. Then, we called it the “trolley valve” (really old timers called it “the Johnson bar”). It’s function is to allow the driver to tug and test the coupling of tractor to trailer (though a really safe driver will do a visual check of the pin as well), not for use while the rig is in motion.

Just as drivers didn’t believe science when it came to front wheel brakes, many of them, especially owner operators with a vested interest in giving preferential treatment to their own equipment, used the trolley to slow the rig, thus saving some life on the truck brakes. Unfortunately, the practice led to quite a few mishaps, too, as trailer brakes wore out exponentially faster. Today, many fleets don’t order their trucks with trolleys, just to keep drivers from using them that way. Sad, because the one time that a driver might actually prevent a problem was if he or she very skillfully applied the trailer brake as an anti-jackknife maneuver, slowing the trailer just enough to get it following the tractor again. Even that is risky business for a newb. Prevention on slick roads and downgrades goes so much farther.

Years ago, sans witnesses, no one had anything but the driver’s word if something bad happened. Drivers would almost always be blamed for any uncoupling accidents that occurred, as if equipment failures were somehow impossible. Well, now, there’s a handy dandy way to assess blame, or actually exonerate, drivers. If you drive for a large fleet, you may already have one installed on your truck and not realize it. A small device, called the TRAILER-SAFEGUARD™ may be monitoring your behavior already. It can tell whether you actually performed a tug test when coupling tractor to trailer, and how you have generally been using the trailer hand brake. Even if there’s no “big brother” device watching you, though, tug testing, doing a visual inspection, and keeping all brakes working together, is the right way to keep safe.

Have fun on your run, everyone!