Wessington Springs School District

Future is 'now' for South Dakota school bus team

It feels like you're driving a car. Who would have ever thought that was possible? Would I buy another one? Yes, and I wouldn't even think twice about it.

Background

When it came time to purchase a new school bus, Dave Kogel felt that – just maybe – he should say goodbye to the status quo and take a look at something new. His long time dealer sales representative, Paul Fiereck, with North Central Bus & Equipment, had a similar pioneering notion.

So the innovative pair decided to reject the torque converter automatic transmissions that had been de facto standard for the school bus industry for decades, and consider a new transmission that reportedly had all the features to better deal with the rolling hills and cold winters that are prevalent in Kogel's school district in central South Dakota.

"Paul had a lot of positive things to say about this new transmission from Eaton," recalls Kogel, transportation director for the Wessington Springs School District and its roughly 330 students.

"While attending a conference in Kansas City," says Fiereck, "there was a lot of chatter surrounding this new Procision medium-duty transmission from Eaton. I've always liked new stuff and the features that everyone was talking about were perfect for my territory.

"So I told Dave, 'You have got to do it'."

Challenge

Dave did it and has since put his new Blue Bird school bus with a 240 horsepower Cummins engine to the test. That typically includes 50 miles in the morning to get the students safely to school, and 50 miles in the afternoon to get them home for all important play time, dinner and, of course, homework.

Certainly not the toughest of assignments that the Procision product has had to tackle since its introduction in 2014, but the bluffs dotting the nearby Missouri River present the bus drivers with a few bumps in the road.

He also hasn't had to deal yet with the snow that arrives every winter, a challenge that Kogel says is always among his toughest.

Yet Fiereck is convinced that the Procision-equipped bus will bring him some welcomed relief from the annual snow falls.

Solution

Procision transmission, he says, "You can rock the bus much easier than with a transmission with a torque converter, I showed Dave and the drivers the Shuttle Shift feature that allows them to go from forward to reverse without stopping if you are not going too fast. That will come in handy when dealing with a snow bank."

Kogel and Fiereck also agree that the Hill Helper and Tap Down Shifting technologies on Procision transmissions gives drivers a much easier way to safely maneuver those South Dakota bluffs. Hill Helper prevents roll back or roll forward for a controlled launch. Tap Down Shifting gives the driver more control by automatically downshifting when tapping the brake pedal on grades or other conditions (like snow) without having to remove their hands from the wheel or eyes from the road.

Meanwhile, Kogel and Fiereck are still learning the additional benefits that are inherent in a Procision dual-clutch transmission compared to a torque converter automatic transmission.

A dual-clutch transmission combines the gear efficiency of a manual with the smooth shifting of an automatic. It consists of two independent but interlocked manual transmissions, each with its own independent clutch. Electronically controlled and hydraulic-actuated gear changes are achieved by pre-selecting the correct gear and "swapping" torque between the two clutches. The result is smooth and continuous delivery of torque to the wheels.

Result

Kogel thought it would be a good idea to give all 10 of his drivers an opportunity to drive the Procision bus in order to get a sampling of opinions.

"Problem is the one who has it now doesn't want to give it up," adds Kogel. "I've driven it and so have others and we all love it."

He also loves the cost-saving, low-maintenance benefits resulting from the use of a proprietary synthetic transmission fluid that allows for lube and filter change intervals to stand at 10 years or 150,000 miles. "We haven't had to do anything maintenancewise yet," notes Kogel.

Fuel consumption, too, has been better than his buses without the Procision transmission. "We are averaging about 10 miles per gallon right now," says Kogel. "But we are just short of running it 10,000 miles, which isn't much. I think when we get a few more miles it may get a little better mileage."

Kogel and Fiereck are both predicting a bright future for the trend-setting Procision transmission.

"Obviously I like it. I already have another one out there being tested in South Dakota," says Fiereck, who is based in neighboring Minnesota. "It feels like you're driving a car. Who would have ever thought that was possible"?

Adds Kogel, "Would I buy another one? Yes, and I wouldn't even think twice about it."