Kalamazoo County Road Commission
Thanks to Eaton’s UltraShift® PLUS VCS Transmissions, Let It Snow…Let It Snow…Let It Snow
“I had concerns before we even got into the winter maintenance season as to how well the automated transmissions would perform under icy, heavy conditions. My concern was the transmission would down shift unexpectedly and cause the driver to lose control. Well, the drivers are saying the trucks are holding to the ground correctly and the transmissions are shifting very well.”
General superintendent, Kalamazoo County Road Commission
Winters tend to be especially harsh in Kalamazoo County in southwestern Michigan, which annually averages roughly 70 inches of snow. That ranks the area among the top 25 most snowed upon regions in the continental United States.
It is the responsibility of the Kalamazoo County Road Commission to remove that snow from more than 1,260 miles [2,028 km] of road surface throughout the 576-square-mile [1,492-square-kilometer] county.
Travis Bartholomew, general superintendent, has to make certain the Road Commission has the best available equipment to remove that same snow as efficiently as possible.
The harsh winters, of course, present the Road Commission with its most daunting challenge.
“We are more than a simple day-to-day operation hauling material to and from the job site,” says Bartholomew. “We are often working in harsh conditions that are well beyond the level of service a typical construction truck is designed to operate. At the end of the day, these trucks come in looking like ice balls. I often think, ‘how does that truck function under those conditions?”
Bartholomew, who started working with the Road Commission in 1995 as a maintenance worker/truck driver, adds that the weight of the auxiliary equipment on the trucks also tests the mettle of his vehicles.
“Our trucks are highly customized,” he says. “When the trucks are new, we have to install dump boxes, underbody scrapers, plow hitches, hydraulic systems and other equipment. The additional equipment is more than what a typical construction truck is designed to accommodate.”
Nonetheless, last year Bartholomew needed to add another weighty new component on his trucks – a side mounted wing plow.
At that point Bartholomew knew it was time to try something new. “We needed to simplify things and provide some help for our drivers,” he says.
Delivering that help in a very big way, says Bartholomew, were four Eaton UltraShift PLUS Vocational Construction Series (VCS) automated transmissions that he spec’d last year on a new order of International 7600 trucks.
“Prior to that we were running all manual transmissions,” adds Bartholomew. “It was time to make a change and we decided automation was the way to go.”
The UltraShift PLUS VCS model has an overall gear ratio of 20:1. This deep reduction gearing and multiple high-speed reverse design best meets the specific needs required for highway construction work and general dump operations–essentially the exact performance requirements of the Kalamazoo County Road Commission. The transmission features the highest torque capacity in the trucking industry – ranging from 1050 lb-ft [1424 Nm] through 2250 lb ft [3051 Nm]. In addition to exceptional start-ability and ratio coverage, each has important driveline safeguards such as auto gear selection, stall prevention, engine over-speed and clutch abuse protection.
“I envy the driver behind the seat belt on one of those trucks,” says Bartholomew. “I do not even know where to start in describing the features and benefits of the transmissions.”
But start he did.“First of all we were looking for a transmission that would deliver the most efficiency, and we compared it to a torqueconverted automatic,” says Bartholomew. “We did not see what we wanted with the torque-converted automatic. Conversely, you could easily see just by the throttle position, during operations, that the Eaton transmissions were much more efficient.”He adds that the UltraShift PLUS transmissions are also passing the tests of weight and winter.
“I had concerns before we even got into the winter maintenance season as to how well the automated transmissions would perform under icy, heavy conditions. My concern was the transmission would down shift unexpectedly and cause the driver to lose control,” says Bartholomew. “Well the drivers are saying the trucks are holding to the ground correctly and the transmissions are shifting very well.”
Bartholomew believes those same drivers are safer operators due to the hands-free shifting feature of automated transmissions.
He adds that driveline-related problems, which were especially troublesome in the winter, have been significantly reduced.
On braking, Bartholomew says the UltraShift PLUS transmissions, “aggressively downshift and with the assistance of an engine retarder walk you right down to a couple miles per hour. With an automatic, you continually need to apply firm brake pressure to make them stop. The driveline does not gain the benefit of the engine to slow the truck once the torque convertor unlocks. I’m hoping to see increased brake-life, even better than the manuals.”
Reverse speeds are just where they need to be, he adds, and the Hill Start AID feature is giving his drivers better control on their vehicles.
“But what really impressed me the most is the customer support that Eaton has provided us,” says Bartholomew. “They have been very good in getting us whatever we need, with training, and dealing with any issues we might have.
“Taking everything into account, UltraShift PLUS will definitely be our transmission of choice in future new truck orders.”
So while the weather outside may be frightful, Eaton’s newest automated transmissions are making those snowy days in southwestern Michigan a lot more delightful for Bartholomew and the Kalamazoo County Road Commission.