What is an experience you had in a truck you’ll never forget?

Mudassir Ali
Feb 27, 2020 01:28 PM 0 Answers
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Mudassir Ali
- Feb 27, 2020 01:28 PM

In the late 1980’s I was a young electrical engineer designing electronic control systems for heavy duty commercial trucks. We had introduced electronic diesel engine controls, automated transmissions and were working on the first traction control system. We flew to the upper peninsula of Michigan where the supplier had rented an airport runway for our testing. Our test truck was an International 9670 like the one in the photo. Like the photo, we did not have a trailer attached, but probably had some weight secured to the rear of the frame rails.

The first test was to pull the fuse to disable the new system and back the truck into snow banks along the runway. The very experienced test driver was unable to pull the truck back out as one side of the rear axle spun freely on the snow. We put the fuse back in to activate the new electronics and replaced the driver with an engineering co-op student from the supplier’s team who had never driven a truck before. He was able to drive the truck out of the snow bank with the help of the electronics applying the brakes to the free spinning wheels. The experienced driver was amazed and obviously the whole team was pleased.

The second part of the test was to see if the electronics could override the throttle if the drive axles spun up faster than the truck was going on the ice on top of a highway overpass. If this happens in the real world the truck can shoot off to the side when the drive tires come back into contact with dry pavement. A devastating jack knife accident.

The test scenario for this second test used the runway with both ends plowed to dry pavement. The center section was sprayed with water in very cold weather to insure it was smooth ice. We would start at the far end of the runway and shift up through the gears as quickly as possible. Upon entering the ice, the driver was to hold the accelerator pedal to the floor and see if the electronics override the throttle signal and match the speed of the drive tires to the speed of the front steering tires. It was my privilege to make one of those first passes and the system worked! As the truck went over the ice, you could see the tach go down rather than running up to a higher RPM that would happen without the new electronics.

It was so exciting to us that on the next pass, I sat on the sleeper bunk with one foot an each seat with one of those monstrous VHS camcorders on my shoulder to film over the driver’s shoulder to provide a view out the windshield as well as the speedometer and tachometer. We had video footage to share with executive leadership and marketing!

It was an incredible day inside the truck. But I looked back on the day afterwards and had to ask myself, what kind of idiots were we to take such risks? The truck had no roll cage. We weren’t wearing crash helmets. Obviously when I recorded the video, I wasn’t wearing a seat belt because I was on the front of the sleeper bunk trying to use my legs against the seats to steady the video camera.

Fortunately test procedures are much better now, but at the time technology was just taking off in the truck industry and was ahead of many standards that exist now.

We had a great day of testing and results. We were also blessed that the truck never came off the ice at an angle or the cab would have slammed over sideways in an instant. Exciting at the time and frightening when I think back on what could have happened.

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