Bruce Hudson, director of corporate maintenance at Heartland Express, has a heart when it comes to the Iowa-based truckload and logistics company’s drivers, who must spend nights on the road. So he’s come up with changes to a tractor’s electrical system that will benefit them during off-duty hours.

Key to Bruce Hudson’s change to Heartland Express’s tractors is a larger alternator and mounting batteries on frame rails so they’ll stay cool.

Key to Bruce Hudson’s change to Heartland Express’s tractors is a larger alternator and mounting batteries on frame rails so they’ll stay cool.

“This is for the drivers,” he says. “Over the years so many changes were made in the truck. But the electrical system has never caught up to the electrical and electronic systems now out there – microwaves, CPAP devices, computers, console gaming things. They take juice, but they keep drivers entertained.”

Managers today want drivers to shut off the engine and save fuel, Hudson says, but there has to be a means to power those accessories. Some options are heavy or expensive, but he found that strengthening the electrical charging system will solve the problem. So he’s made changes to specifications for future tractors, including:

• Switching to an alternator larger than the standard 155- to 185-amp units. For proprietary reasons he can’t say how much bigger.
• Mounting batteries on frame rails to keep them cool. Manufacturers have been putting the usual four Group 31 batteries under the cab so they’re closer to the alternator, but this keeps them in a hot space where they don’t live long.
•  Using a heavy charging cable. The longer run to the batteries requires a cable that’s heftier than standard.

Those changes allow Heartland to stay with a four-battery complement. They’ll live longer because the larger alternator will keep them fully charged most of the time, even in cold weather when high current is needed to overcome battery sluggishness. This also allows Hudson to do away with battery sensing and the extra wire between the alternator and batteries. And he’s working with several suppliers on a component that will ensure that batteries are not overcharged, either.

He’s altered the charging systems on two tractors and they’re working well. The changes will cost a fraction of add-on components and be far simpler to manage, he figures.

“We’re not making something new,” Hudson says. “I’m taking what’s been out there and making it work better.”


Heartland Express has long been known for its low operating ratio and healthy profits. Challenges have increased since its acquisition last November of Gordon Trucking Inc. of Pacific, Wash. The long, rough winter negatively impacted operations, but profits are still there.

GTI remains a separate operation, but the plan is to gradually meld the two companies and their workforces, says Heartland’s maintenance director, Bruce Hudson. He’s determined to make any equipment changes slowly and explain them as he goes, including the electrical systems outlined in ths article. Gordon’s tractors have been outfitted to deal with “house” loads differently, Hudson says and “I don’t want them to think we’re pulling the rug out from under them.”