Article

TMC Celebrates 50 years

Here are just a few of its many accomplishments, colorful characters and "war stories" from the early years.

February 2006, TruckingInfo.com - Cover Story

by Jim Winsor, Executive Editor

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Fifty years of anything in this day and age is worth crowing about in my book. I have had the pleasure of attending meetings of the Technology and Maintenance Council for 38 of those years, and I've had access to people who witnessed some of the significant early accomplishments. The sidebar chronology on the following page lists the more significant events, dates and issues of the past 50 years. We certainly can't cover them all.

To set the record straight, TMC really didn't really get its start as we know it until Sept. 1979. It was then that the American Trucking Associations agreed to take over the work that had been done by its Regular Common Carrier Conference, the group within ATA that represented a large group of for-hire LTL carriers. In the days before deregulation, it was the RCCC carriers that were the political and financial powerhouse of ATA.

To put things in perspective, in 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower signed legislation to build the Interstate Highway System that we mostly take for granted today. The construction of the interstates changed over-the-road trucking dramatically. For the first time, truckers could go hundreds of miles without stopping, at speeds of 60 mph and faster.

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With few exceptions, trucks – and especially tires – were not designed for sustained high-speed operation, nor did they have horsepower to get up the grades faster than a crawl. 200 horsepower was big power back then. Most rigs were still gas-engined, and certainly not durable enough to run 50 to 60 mph hour after hour. The transition to diesel came rapidly in the late '50s and early '60s, and with it came new operating and maintenance problems. Road breakdowns and blown tires were common.

It was under the direction of the Board of Governors of the Regular Common Carrier Conference that a maintenance committee – with a paid staff engineer to guide it – was authorized and funded. The year was 1956. The RCCC maintenance committee really laid the ground work, and over the next 23 years got fleets and suppliers working together "to improve equipment and its maintenance," which are the words in its charter. The RCCC MC represents the first 23 years of TMC's history. TMC was formed as a Council of ATA in 1979, and its first meeting was held in Louisville, Ky., that September.

In the beginning, the maintenance committee was just fleet maintenance men, many of whom started out as mechanics, then advanced in their companies to head their maintenance operations. The truck manufacturers were represented by the Truck Division of the Automobile Manufacturers Association (today's MVMA) and trailers by the Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association.

In the early years, truck maintenance people got little attention from the supplier industry – much less recognition. Maintenance committee members met with reps from AMA and TTMA, explained their urgent problems, and asked the suppliers to go back to their respective companies and work to solve those problems. It was tedious, frustrating and slow. The maintenance committee rightfully accused the suppliers of stonewalling. Words and blood pressure were explosive at many meetings. Suppliers were looked upon as the enemy for at least the first 10 years.

The classic story involves a session on tires; specifically, what the fleets wanted and needed for interstate trucking. There were no DOT tire standards in those days. Tires were "rated" by the number of plies and the amount of air pressure. More of each meant a so-called premium tire commanding a premium price. Radials hadn't come along yet.

Andrew Ambli, the colorful and very outspoken director of maintenance for Briggs Transportation of St. Paul, put the tire builders on the run when he showed up at a meeting with his now-famous burlap tire. Constructed of burlap wrapped around an inner tube, Ambli's tire had more plies of burlap and held much higher air pressure than anything the "Big Five" Akron-based tire companies had on the stage.

Ambli proved the point by having each tire guy explain his tire; then Ambli walked up to his burlap tire and took a pressure reading that was 20 to 30 pounds higher than the others. And it had far more plies (layers). The audience roared. Ambli, who was a Norwegian with a heavy accent, using words not suitable for this magazine, told the @#?&* tire makers to go home and build real tires that would last on the interstates. To this day, I think Ambli's burlap tire did as much as anything else to get the new federal DOT to develop tire safety and performance standards.

During those early years, as fleets gained strength in numbers and shared problems and cost data among themselves, it became apparent that a number of big-name suppliers and vehicle manufacturers weren't getting the message.

That changed abruptly when the maintenance committee identified the suppliers of problem products. At one meeting, it might be lighting, wiring and bulbs. At another it was a major diesel engine manufacturer. At a third it was a major tractor manufacturer.

In each case, the troublesome vendor was invited to his "night in the barrel" – a closed-door meeting during which the well-prepared fleets showed/explained failed products and documented high operating and maintenance costs.

The "honoree" in the barrel usually showed up with its top corporate brass, engineers and service personnel. They left a lot wiser and usually made a commitment to the fleets to correct things. The "barrel treatment" stories spread far and wide and made many vendors pay closer attention to problems and to fix them before they, too, faced the "barrel."

By 1970, the maintenance committee really grew both in size and stature. The three meetings each year were held in different regions of the country as a way to encourage more local fleet participation. Suppliers gradually "signed on," realizing that if they helped fleets with training and used them in a positive way for product development and testing, everyone would benefit in the long run.

Suppliers, under the moniker of the "No Name Committee," helped with the growth and industry-wide accomplishments of the group. The "No Name" group came to be associate members just as they are today. Their technical expertise led to many improvements by working as partners with fleets and no longer being "the enemy."

Out of the many cooperative fleet-supplier projects came the Type I through Type IV fuel economy test procedures developed jointly with the Society of Automotive Engineers. These were "hands-on" vehicle tests in which one component was changed and the same routes run against the same base line vehicle to see what the changed item did to fuel economy. It was this kind of testing that validated fuel savings from early roof-mounted aerodynamic devices/farings. It validated the effects of speeds over 55 mph on fuel economy, something very important during the fuel shortages of the '70s.

During the RCCC maintenance committee years, there were no dues. The RCCC's Board of Governors believed that the results the maintenance committee was achieving more than paid the cost of staff salaries and office expenses. Attendees paid only meeting fees to cover meals and hotel rental expenses.

During those formative years, the maintenance committee broke the vehicle into pieces, so to speak, so various Study Groups and their Task Forces could work simultaneously on different projects. At the beginning, these were the principal Study Groups. Some have since been combined or expanded to reflect changing needs:

• S.1-Electrical & Instruments

• S.2-Tires & Wheels

• S.3-Engines

• S.4-Cab & Controls

• S.5-Fleet Maintenance Management

• S.6-Chassis

• S.7-Trailers, Bodies & Material Handling

• S.12-On-Board Vehicle Electronics

• S.14-Light & Medium Duty Vehicles

• S.15-Specialty Vehicles

Out of all the RCCC maintenance committee's work, I can single out a number of significant and lasting accomplishments. Among them:

Recommended Practices. These, as the name says, are equipment- or maintenance-related practices on hundreds of subjects. They're developed and voted on and, when approved, published in Recommended Practices manuals. One of the early ones (RP 401), which is taken for granted today, was the standardized truck instrument panel layout, spelling out the locations for all the gauges and control knobs. Before, each truck builder did it differently, which made things tough for drivers who drove multiple makes of trucks, especially at night.

Another significant early RP called for mounting batteries crosswise between the vehicle's frame rails to greatly reduce vibration, the cause of premature battery failures. Battery boxes traditionally were cantilevered off a frame rail, which caused severe shaking/vibration. It was during this period that the first sealed batteries (requiring no water make-up) entered the marketplace.

Vehicle Maintenance Reporting Standards (VMRS). Prior to 1970, there were no agreed-upon methods fleets used to compare maintenance expenses. Example: Is the starter part of engine costs or electrical system costs? Under the leadership of Pat Patterson, who was at the time Ryder System's top equipment and maintenance exec, the maintenance committee sought answers and hired Pete Paquette (a long-time RCCC/TMC member who just recently died) to develop a simple program that could be used with both manually-kept maintenance records and computerized systems. It is still recognized and used as the backbone of maintenance cost accounting.

The Trailblazer. This publication covers in some detail all the presentations at each meeting. It originally was written by members of the trade press. Through the Trailblazer, members not attending a meeting or two could keep up with what was going on.

Silver Spark Plug. The SSP Award was founded in 1968 to recognize individuals for their outstanding contributions to the organization. It was the RCCC maintenance committee's highest honor and continues to be so today with TMC.

The RCCC supplied and paid for, two full-time staffers to support the work of the maintenance committee. They were talented and dedicated people. First Staff Engineer was Bob Gardner, who really helped launch the Committee from 1956 to 1969. He was assisted by Mary Sandor from 1964 through 1979 when the maintenance committee transitioned into TMC. Succeeding Gardner was Don Wilson, who was Staff Engineer from 1969 until the transition.

A lot more can, and probably should, be said about the RCCC maintenance committee. Suffice it to say that today's Technology and Maintenance Council wouldn't be what it is without the illustrious work done in the RCCC days, even considering the fleet/supplier adversarial relationships at the beginning.

TMC FORMED 1979

By the late '70s, the maintenance committee had grown to several hundred active members and the study groups were very busy generating RPs. At the same time, the Regular Common Carrier Conference was falling on hard times. The impact of deregulation was being felt as thousands of new start-up trucking companies vied for shippers' freight. There was a big drop in RCCC fleet membership and with it, a big drop in the conference's income. It no longer was possible to support the maintenance committee.

Meetings were held with ATA executives (ATA President at the time was Bennett Whitlock), and a decision was reached that the maintenance committee should become a stand-alone Council of the ATA with its own staff and a dues-paying membership structure.

Senior ATA staffers Paul Domer and Gerri Murphy, who had been running The Operations Council, were selected to head up the new TMC staff. They were experts in running association activities but lacked knowledge about equipment and maintenance. That expertise was to come from Bill Gibson, a senior member of ATA's Engineering Department. He was named TMC's first Technical Director.

Horst Vollmer, a maintenance exec with International Utilities Corp., was the transition chairman in 1979 and led TMC's first board of directors (of which I had the privilege of being a member). He was succeeded by Mac Pierson, director of maintenance for Sanborn's Express, Portland, Maine.

The first meeting was held in Louisville, Ky., in September 1979 with a turn-out of more than 500. TMC was off to a good start and was built on the maintenance committee's structure of study groups and task forces. This structure continues today and has been added to repeatedly as needs change.

In 1984, TMC added exhibits as part of the winter annual meeting. They started out as small tabletop booths. Within three years, their popularity and size had grown to the point that Paul Domer had to rent tents to house them. These continued to grow in size to the point that the hotel in Orlando erected a semi-permanent exhibits center with heat and air conditioning. TMC had hit the big-time. It finally outgrew the Orlando hotel facilities and moved to the Opryland complex in Nashville in 1997.

The TMC annual meeting and attendance continued to grow to the size that TMC needed a major convention center. TMC moved to Ft. Lauderdale's Convention center in 2002 and used five hotels to house attendees. TMC moved to Tampa starting in 2005 and is there again this year. Attendance in recent years has exceeded 2,000 fleets, associates and exhibitors.

As the years have gone by and the council has continued to grow, so has its membership and revenue. TMC today reportedly is ATA's second largest "profit center" following its weekly paper, Transport Topics. Net revenue to ATA is "well over $1 million" annually, sources report.

All organizations have their ups and downs. TMC is no different. One of the most controversial issues came from a new ATA-wide policy known as "the Wren Plan," which stated that to be a member of any ATA-related group, that person and his company had to be a dues-paying ATA member. Initially, TMC was to be included. It took "special meetings" for the TMC board to convince the ATA hierarchy (at the time the ATA President was Walter McCormick) that TMC would lose a large percentage of its members. Fortunately, TMC's position prevailed. The year was 1999.

At another point, many TMC members wanted to leave ATA and form a separate national maintenance organization. Then-ATA President Tom Donohue (who is now president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) made a special trip on short notice to attend a TMC meeting in Cincinnati to convince the attendees that their future would be best as part of the ATA family.

A large part of TMC's ongoing success and accomplishments goes to a dedicated board of directors made up of both fleet and associate (supplier) members. It's a hands-on board that works closely with and gives direction to its paid staff headed by Carl Kirk. He started with TMC in 1987 and served in several positions before becoming executive director in 1993. Robert Braswell joined TMC in 1992 and has been technical director since 1995. There are four others who handle meetings and exhibits, membership, information technology, and an information manager who writes the Trailblazer meeting reports.

TMC meetings are structured to include three broad-based technical sessions that are attended by everyone. Then there are individual study groups that each meet separately to discuss and work in their various disciplines, such as brakes, suspensions, hydraulics, electrical systems, cabs and controls, etc.

Study groups develop Recommended Practices (RPs) which, once approved, are published in a two-volume set of RP manuals that come with fleet membership. They're for sale to anyone interested in them. They are valuable technical information resources for both fleets and suppliers. Each study group oversees task forces, which are the groups that do the research and ground work leading up to writing Recommended Practices. There are more than 500 RPs in use today.

Two other popular meeting subjects are "Shop Talk" and "Fleet Talk," which are informal and less structured. "Shop Talk" has no fixed agenda and no planned speakers. It's best described as a technical bull session with attendees bringing up a host of subjects, problems and solutions. Much of it has grown out of private conversations often started in the hallways. Fleet and associates (suppliers) are both welcome.

At "Fleet Talk," only fleet members are welcome. This is a closed-door meeting where maintenance managers can air anything they would just as soon not have associates hear about. It's all off the record. No notes are taken; nothing appears in the Trailblazer. Much of these discussions are brand-specific.

In 1989 TMC started a "Failure Analysis" session where fleets are invited to bring (or ship) failed or short-lived parts to the meeting. These are placed on tables at the front of the room for all to see and are also shown close-up on closed-circuit TV. Experts in the audience try to pinpoint the failure causes and recommend solutions. In some cases, failed parts go back to the vendor for further lab or engineering analysis.

In 2004 TMC launched a Professional Technician Development Committee to formalize and promote mechanic training and skills proficiency. It was an effort to upgrade technician training – something of vital concern to fleet managers who have their own fleet maintenance facilities. The effort has been well received, and led to TMC's first National Technicians Skills Competition, held at last year's fall meeting in Valley Forge, Pa.

It's difficult to single out special events or activities in this limited space, but two are worth special mention. In 1995 there was an industrywide battle going on with NHTSA over a proposed rule which, if enacted, would have required all tractors to have a second power cord connecting to trailers. NHTSA's position was that the traditional seven-circuit connector wasn't sufficient to power trailer anti-lock brakes and send signals to a new warning light NHTSA wanted on tractor dash panels.

TMC and ATA argued that the desired results could be done through the existing power cord. An all-day forum bringing all segments of trucking together was held in Washington with top NHTSA leaders and engineers to discuss why the expense and complexity of a second power cord was unnecessary. NHTSA ultimately revised its proposed rule, and TMC and SAE went forward to develop the circuitry used in today's power cord.

By 2000, there was growing interest in air disc brakes and electronic braking controls. TMC's summer meeting that year was in Columbus, Ohio – only an hour's drive from The Transportation Research Center, which has skid pads, a 150-mph high-banked test track, brake dynamometers and more.

TMC hosted an all-day series of braking demonstrations at the track showing off state-of-the-art braking systems, anti-rollover stability systems, wet track anti-skid braking and even pedal-to-the-metal panic stops from 60 mph with loaded rigs, including doubles. It was most impressive and eye-opening. TMC brake task forces have used data from that event in their work since then.

"TMC" was The Maintenance Council from September 1979 until 2001. That year, it broadened its charter to include on-board and off-board technology. Among other things, these technologies include electronic communications between vehicles and ground locations. Two new study groups were formed: S.21-Automated Data Technology, and S.22-Off-Board Data Systems. Most of their members were former members of ATA's Information Technology & Logistics Council, which had been floundering. "TMC" is still the same acronym, but now it's the Technology and Maintenance Council.

What does the future hold for TMC? The TMC structure and meetings are the only opportunity nationally for fleet managers and executives with maintenance management responsibilities to hear and participate in timely and detailed programs that can help them with their jobs. Over the years, first-time attendees have said they wished they'd heard about TMC earlier. The twice-a-year meetings are opportunities to network with others with similar jobs and to build relationships with suppliers. These meetings frequently turn out to be valuable later in getting specific problems fixed or resolving issues that local dealers ignore or "stonewall." How do you put a dollar value on that?

On the negative side are the issues of costs and time away from your job. First there's annual dues (three levels depending on participation). Then there are registration costs to attend meetings, meals, hotel rooms, travel expenses, etc.

Finally, there's the age-old issue of senior fleet management saying: "What? You want to go to Tampa (or wherever) for four days at my expense to play golf!!" (One thing for sure: It's not a golfing junket. Meetings start daily with a 7 a.m. breakfast.)

Hopefully TMC will still be going strong in the next half-century. TMC meetings have been an important part of my technical education and a great source for articles and columns. I've missed only one meeting in 38 years.

For meeting or membership information, contact Janet Howells-Tierney, director of Council Development, the Technology & Maintenance Council, American Trucking Associations Inc., 2200 Mill Rd., Alexandria, VA 22314-5388. Phone: (703) 838-1763; fax: (703) 684-4328. E-mail: tmc@trucking.org; web site: http://tmc.truckline.com.

TMC HISTORICAL TIMELINE

1956

May 15 RCCC (regular Common Carrier Conference of ATA creates a committee dedicated to the improvement of equipment and its maintenance.

1957

Jan. 1957 Bert Ogden from Consolidated Freightways named first general chairman. Bob Gardner named RCCC maintenance committee staff engineer. Mary Sandor hired in 1964 as staff assistant.

1966

Private Truck Council of America (now the National Private Truck Council) joins in maintenance committee activities.

1966

Maintenance committee 10th anniversary tied in with major in-service fleet equipment "show and tell" held in Charlotte N.C. Coliseum. Event draws more than 70 tractors – some with a half-million miles – along with hand-outs of maintenance problems.

1968

Silver Spark Plug Award for distinguished service established.

1969

Don Wilson succeeds Bob Gardner as maintenance committee staff engineer.

1970

VMRS (Vehicle Maintenance Reporting Standards) developed by Pete Paquette, at the time a contractor to the RCCC.

1975

First Recommended Practices manual published; associates (supplier members) establish Recognized Associates Award.

1978

Maintenance committee, in conjunction with SAE, develops Type I Fuel Economy test procedure, the first of four.

1979

RCCC maintenance committee transformed into a full technical Council of the American Trucking Assns., named "The Maintenance Council" (TMC). ATA veteran staffers Paul Domer and Gerri Murphy named executive director and membership director. Bill Gibson from ATA's Engineering Department becomes TMC's first technical director.

1983

TMC launches Tomorrow's Truck Program.

1984

TMC holds first Transportation Equipment Exposition at Orlando meeting; remains in Orlando until 1997. Bill Gibson retires as technical director and is succeeded by Bill Tracy.

1986-87

TMC starts "Maintenance" newsletter and maintenance training videos. Carl Kirk joins TMC as information manager and Bill Tracy is named executive director succeeding Paul Domer.

1989

TMC holds first biannual "Failure Analysis" meeting; also holds first Tomorrow's Truck Symposium.

1990

Carl Kirk named TMC technical director; TMC and SAE develop J1587/1708 Recommended Practice allowing for adoption of uniform electronic data protocol and physical connection points.

1991

TMC establishes Don Dawson Memorial Scholarship for future vehicle engineers/fleet managers. (Dawson was VP of Maintenance for Roadway Express and strong TMC advocate.)

1993

Carl Kirk named executive director succeeding Bill Tracy; S.14 Study Group for Light & Medium Duty Vehicles formed.

1995

TMC holds industrywide forum in Washington D.C. to address controversial NHTSA rule-making proposal for trailer anti-lock brake power signaling. Result: NHTSA amends proposal to allow industry to develop technical solution for ABS signal communication. Robert Braswell named TMC technical director. TMC publishes first preventive maintenance inspection manual.

1999

TMC relocates annual meeting to Opryland in Nashville, remains through 2001. TMC introduces VMRS 2000.

2000

TMC reorganizes "Tomorrow's Truck." It becomes "Future Truck." TMC holds all-day ECBS/air disc brake technical demonstration at Transportation Research Center (TRC) track in East Liberty, Ohio.

2001

TMC renamed Technology and Maintenance Council and takes over on-board and off-board technology issues from defunct Council.

2002

TMC moves annual meeting & exhibits to Ft. Lauderdale; Partners with Mexican trucking group to hold TMC-style meeting for Mexican motor carriers; forms similar group in 2003 for Canadian truckers.

2003

TMC launches Professional Technician Development Committee (PTDC); signs research and development agreement with U.S. Army National Automotive Center and Aberdeen Test center.

2005

TMC holds SuperTech2005 first National Technicians' Skills Competition at Valley Forge fall meeting; launches "Tech Talk with TMC" as a regular radio segment on XM Satellite Radio.

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