Brand-new Great Dane vans line one end of the testing hall at the TMC SuperTech competition in Orlando on September 17. Technicians must fix glitches placed in the vehicles by administrators. 
 - Photo: Tom Berg

Brand-new Great Dane vans line one end of the testing hall at the TMC SuperTech competition in Orlando on September 17. Technicians must fix glitches placed in the vehicles by administrators. 

Photo: Tom Berg

Members of the American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council, gathering in Orlando this week, are primarily concerned with power units. But trailers are literally a big part of their educational sessions and the TMC SuperTech competition, held on Monday. A half dozen 53-foot vans lined one end of the testing hall, taking up as much space as road tractors nearby.

The brand-new Great Dane trailers were provided by Walmart Transportation, a big TMC booster. Several of its representatives were among a cadre of supervisors, and Walmart technicians have long been involved in the national competition. The annual event includes state contests from which the best proceed to the national finals held at TMC’s fall meeting.

One was John Oswalt, from West Point, Mississippi, who was among the winners from his state and who is now in Orlando pondering the problems put before him in the Trailers Track portion of the competition. He works in the repair shop at a Love’s Truck Stop in Columbus, Miss.

“I work on the trucks, too, but I’m doing the trailers here,” he commented during a lunch break. “They’ve gotten complicated… It used to be that to fix ‘em you’d change some parts. It still took something up here” (tapping his head), “but now it’s also computer stuff. So now we have technicians instead of just mechanics.”

Higher-tech trailer components that contestants must deal with in SuperTech include anti-lock braking and central tire inflation systems, electrical circuits and corrosion, and telematics. There are also traditional subjects like wheel ends, fasteners, roll-up doors, lighting and preventative maintenance inspections. As contestants go through each station, they must solve a series of problems rigged into the trailers.

They’re judged by time and correctness, which add up to skill. They also take exhaustive written tests, and I saw a lot of tired faces among the techs competing here.

John Oswalt, a repair technician at a Love’s Truck Stop in Columbus, Mississippi, is among competitors at the annual SuperTech event. He’s got an apparent head cold, so might be more tired than others who are being judged on their problem-solving skills.
 - Photo: Tom Berg

John Oswalt, a repair technician at a Love’s Truck Stop in Columbus, Mississippi, is among competitors at the annual SuperTech event. He’s got an apparent head cold, so might be more tired than others who are being judged on their problem-solving skills.

Photo: Tom Berg

“It wouldn’t be so bad if I wasn’t sick,” Oswalt remarked. “My head’s all stuffed up and I can’t hear.” Well, he did hear my questions, and my northern ears understood his southern-drawled answers. Now 50, he said he’s been a mechanic for 30 years — actually longer since he worked on trucks in his dad’s repair shop when he was a kid.

“My father, my grandfather, and one of my brothers were all mechanics,” he related. “Another brother worked in parts for a truck company. I didn’t have a choice about what to do. It was all around me.”

Officials add up the testing points earned by Oswalt and the other competitors, along with those awarded during verbal testing. Top scorers in the Trailers and other tracks, plus a grand champion, will be announced at a banquet on Tuesday evening. It’s a big deal, and meant to put some well-deserved shine on people and a profession that are vital to the industry.

Author

Tom Berg
Tom Berg

Tom Berg

Journalist since 1965, truck writer and editor since 1978. CDL-qualified; conducts road tests on new heavy-, medium- and light-duty tractors and trucks. Specializes in vocational trucks and trailers of all types.

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Journalist since 1965, truck writer and editor since 1978. CDL-qualified; conducts road tests on new heavy-, medium- and light-duty tractors and trucks. Specializes in vocational trucks and trailers of all types.

View Bio
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