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Life on the line...


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#1 dieseldog1970

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Posted 14 May 2012 - 12:13 PM

I thought I should move this information since I hijacked the thread started by Rich S (sorry about that!!). I will add info if anyone asks about my time at the factory, and I am sure much has changed since the company was moved to Portland, so I can only tell ya what I know when it was in Kelowna B.C.

Started in 1993 in West Line Center, installing radiators once the engine was dropped in the chassis, did 6 years in that area doing various jobs. Rad drop, engine prep, engine drop, rad build, exhaust install and mudflap install. Worked for 3 years in the warehouse doing everything related to that job...receiving, stocking, shipping and bulk transport.

I was there when the very last truck rolled off the line (September 2002), Pe Ben Industries (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada)bought that one to finish off their fleet. I will post pics when I unpack all my photos that were taken during the last two days of operation.

Curt

#2 dieseldog1970

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Posted 14 May 2012 - 03:39 PM

Might as well start at the beginning, when I first walked into the plant, my jaw hit the floor. I had worked in various automotive shops before, but the sheer size of the place was amazing (small compared to the other manufacturers). Motors and trans on dolleys pinned to the line, cabs and sleepers sitting on racks - suspended by large hoists, frames mounted in jigs being bolted togther. Huge paint booths that would have 3-4 painters spraying each frame, racks of parts and air tanks, bins of brackets and nuts n bolts.

After my orientation, I was sent to West Line North (I believe I mentioned West Line Center before, brain fart...must be the old age?? LOL), my first job on line was to install the radiator piping to the engine and drop the pre-built rad onto the chassis. This was a bottle neck area with engine drop, rad drop and cab drop separated by 5 stations. If there were any problems at engine drop, it would cause major grief for the rest of us...


to be continued

#3 lapazleo

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Posted 14 May 2012 - 05:16 PM

fascinating experience

#4 Rich_S

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Posted 14 May 2012 - 09:58 PM

I thought I should move this information since I hijacked the thread started by Rich S (sorry about that!!).
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Curt


No worries Curt ;) Having spent 25 some years in the trucking industry as a driver, both local and over the road, it's interesting to read about how these things were actually put together. Did Western Star leave all of the engines in the manufactures original color? What color was Roadranger painting their transmissions when you worked for Western Star?

#5 dieseldog1970

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Posted 15 May 2012 - 01:32 PM

No worries Curt ;) Having spent 25 some years in the trucking industry as a driver, both local and over the road, it's interesting to read about how these things were actually put together. Did Western Star leave all of the engines in the manufactures original color? What color was Roadranger painting their transmissions when you worked for Western Star?



Western Star did leave all the motors as delivered from Cummins, Cat and Detroit Diesel, all that engine line did was bolt on accessories and wiring. As far as the transmissions...Eaton was usually a semi-gloss black and Fuller was a primer red...hope that helps!

#6 dieseldog1970

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Posted 15 May 2012 - 01:57 PM

A couple years after I started, the company finally decided to separate rad drop and cab drop from engine drop area, this relieved alot of pressure on the whole line because management did not like having it down for any length of time. They eventually had it set up where the cab and sleeper (if called for) were bolted together on cab/sleeper line and dropped as a unit onto the chassis. The workers would manually push this unit across the main access lane on a overhead track and slowly lower the combo as a unit down onto the chassis. Made for a great photo op with those big (at the time) 72 inch sleepers and fully dressed cabs, had more than one tour stop and watch that happen.

Before I get to carried away, what you have to picture is that everything was done basically on two lines...Line 1- frames were built, add front axle assembly and rear ends, j-brackets and battery boxes, engine and tranny mounts, wiring and piping, mask and paint, drop engine/trans, add fuel tanks and lines. Line 2- rad drop,batteries, cab/sleeper drop, exhaust install, lube station, tire station, start-up (and yes- if you were buying a new Star and came for a tour...you could be the first to fire it!!), hood drop and bumper station. There were many smaller operations that went on as well as the ones listed, but those were the major ones. Everything else was sub-assembled and brought to those two lines, we had at our peak...around 960 employees divided between plant and warehouse, with anywhere from one shift to three depending on area.

Yup....more to come!

#7 dustym

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Posted 16 May 2012 - 02:00 AM

Not to hijack your post's, but once I got to go and take a tour of the Kenworth plant in Seattle. I can see in my mind exactly what your talking about. That was a cool experience.

#8 dieseldog1970

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Posted 16 May 2012 - 03:52 AM

Hey Dustym, no worries about any hijack! I do have a question for you...having never stepped in another truck plant, I heard that most of the other OEM's had multiple lines for each model (Ex. one line for your W900, one for the T600). There was a comment by a Frieghtliner engineer who was on tour at WST, he was very surprised that all of our models were built on the same line. That means in any typical day, you could build 10 LHD highway tractors, 2 twin-steers, 4 RHD Aussies and 1 6900. Each day was different and like any other job, you had good days....and days where you were swearing like a....trucker!!!! LOL But the one thing that will always stand out from working there, is how if you got behind, one of your co-workers would jump in and help. This place was like one big family, you had your squabbles, but building the best...(it sounds like a cheesy commercial), that is what we were most proud about!!!

Edited by dieseldog1970, 16 May 2012 - 03:52 AM.


#9 dustym

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Posted 16 May 2012 - 07:35 AM

If my memory serves me, it was only 1 line in that building. They were simular to the t-600's but the side windows were not straight on the bottom. This was 18 years ago with a class about auto body painting.

#10 dieseldog1970

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Posted 16 May 2012 - 04:02 PM

So when I started at the plant, I believe we were doing about 14 trucks per day, cycle time was around 15 minutes per truck. Since we did everything on one line, depending on your job, it could be a nightmare when the cycle time decreased. The guys putting on fuel tanks were not happy when they seen more than one Aussie in the day...two 150 gallon, two 100 gallon and another two 80 or 90 gallon tanks made for a busy install! Each set of tanks had a j-bracket cross over brace mounted underneath, plus each tank had fuel lines tying the system all together. IIRC they also had three straps on each of the bigger tanks, but there was always extra help from lead hands or other workers to get the job done.

I went from rad drop to engine drop, doing the install of every motor/trans for about 9 months, had a 4 ton bridge crane overhead, swinging motors over the chassis, two of us would drop it in and bolt it down. Before they added the cool down booth, the chassis's would come out of the bake oven...this thing was heated to around 250 degrees!! Summers were brutal, hot chassis, warm Okanagan weather, temps outside could be in the 30's up to the low 40's (86 to 107 F). Made for long days and more than one burn, the company adjusted the line and added a cool down booth with about 8 overhead fans. This made the job much easier, plus it was a good place to go to escape the summer heat!!!

to continue...

#11 lapazleo

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Posted 16 May 2012 - 04:53 PM

Like building the ultimate model 1 to 1 scale.

#12 cargostar

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Posted 17 May 2012 - 04:17 AM

Been thru the Springfield OH IH plant numerous times. They had two lines at one time. In the 70's, one line had the light duty coming down it (pick-ups and Travelalls), and the other hadjust about anything else. Mostly Loadstars tho.... One of the last time I was thru, one line was 4000's, and the other was alot of 9000 cabovers. The cabs were assemble on the second floor, and lowerd on to the chassis thru a hole in the floor of the second story.

#13 dieseldog1970

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Posted 17 May 2012 - 01:39 PM

Been thru the Springfield OH IH plant numerous times. They had two lines at one time. In the 70's, one line had the light duty coming down it (pick-ups and Travelalls), and the other hadjust about anything else. Mostly Loadstars tho.... One of the last time I was thru, one line was 4000's, and the other was alot of 9000 cabovers. The cabs were assemble on the second floor, and lowerd on to the chassis thru a hole in the floor of the second story.


Thanks Cargostar! I would have liked to seen that operation, lowering the cabs thru the floor would have been cool to watch! Great way to utilize space, having two floors!

#14 dieseldog1970

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Posted 17 May 2012 - 01:55 PM

So here I am, working at engine drop, this is where I was introduced to the 6900 model, this truck was mostly used for off-road and severe service. Our biggest purchaser for this model was Freeport Mines in Indonesia, they would order up to 20 trucks at a time, various wheelbases, for use all over the mine. Most of the trucks were built with 3408 Cat's and Allison automatics, there was a problem early on with the transmissions. It seems that one of our trucks had a major accident, the transmission grenaded and bits and pieces ended up coming through the floor, killing the driver!! The company did not want to be held responsible for this in any way, so they decided to install a "scatter shield" over top of the transmission. This was a major pain in the butt to work around, they would schedule the 6900's for early in the morning and last ruck of the day. Overtime for a whole bunch of us, this combo could take up to an hour to install and bolt down. We would have to spread the frame just a bit with a hydraulic ram just to get the big trans under the "scatter shield". The shield was the same thickness as the frame rails and went right over top, lots of cursing and swearing, but with a great group of guys...made the job easier!! We dealt with this until Alison fixed whatever the problem was, and the trucks were eventually built without the shield.

We only installed maybe half a dozen Cummins KT motors the whole time I was there, they went down under where the emission laws were not so strict(?). I believe that they finally designated this motor off-road or industrial use only, so we did not see many of them. In the other post, I mentioned that we built 2 trucks for Warren Johnson and his racing operation, my signature went on both of those motors after they were installed.

more to come....

#15 lapazleo

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Posted 17 May 2012 - 04:53 PM

Great stories keep em coming.

#16 dieseldog1970

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Posted 18 May 2012 - 01:28 PM

As the build rate went up, so did the number of employees, and more than one wanted the overtime in Final. The problem is, that some of these people drove small cars, and moving a Class 8 tractor around does take some skill! Unfortunately, there were more than one mud flap and bumper that suffered an early demise! So the company said "anyone working in final and moving trucks must have a class 3 or 1 license, or have their air brake certification"! I jumped at the chance to get my air brakes, simple deal...you pass...company pays for the course. If you fail, then it was coming off your paycheck! So I got to drive trucks in and out out Final, and this is where I found outhow strange those RHD trucks were! For my fellow modellers down under, pretty easy for you, but for us up here...we are used to worrying about the front right corner...not left!! Now jump in a RHD 6900, and man this could be an interesting yet expensive trip...I eventually got over my jitters (these trucks were in the six figure price range!) and did not have any mishaps in my many weekends working in Final. Moving these trucks through the yard with forklift traffic was at times very stressfull...can you guess how fast an unsecured hood flops forward when you hit the brakes to miss a forklift zipping by? Pretty darn fast, only did that one once...no damage, but there were a few hoods cracked from others not checking the hinges.

still more.....

#17 lapazleo

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Posted 19 May 2012 - 08:38 AM

Cool keep it coming.

#18 Rich_S

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Posted 19 May 2012 - 08:58 AM

Hi Curt,
For me the hardest part of driving a RHD truck would be shifting. After 25 years of driving class 8 trucks and reaching for the stick with my right hand, I'd be completely lost trying to shift left handed :blink:

Edited by Rich_S, 19 May 2012 - 09:00 AM.


#19 dieseldog1970

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Posted 19 May 2012 - 12:54 PM

Hi Curt,
For me the hardest part of driving a RHD truck would be shifting. After 25 years of driving class 8 trucks and reaching for the stick with my right hand, I'd be completely lost trying to shift left handed :blink:


Lol, yes...that could pose a problem for the people who are used to LHD!! Everything is reversed for the switch to RHD except for the transmission...this stays exactly the same as the LHD, so you are actually shifting TOWARDS yourself...not away!!! I am sure that many of us would tear up a brand new transmission if we had to go through the gears and travel any distance!!! :o I have driven plow trucks for about four years, and even some of the older ###### I was stuck in had some oddball transmissions that would bite you in the butt at the worst time!!!! Just imagine pulling a hill with all your iron down, full box of sand, and you go for the right gear in the wrong spot....a whole bunch of "Gosh, Golly, Gee, Darn's" come spewing outta your mouth in a hurry!!!!

#20 dieseldog1970

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Posted 19 May 2012 - 01:25 PM

So lets talk about engines...as delivered from the vendors (Cat, Cummins and Detroit Diesel), we did nothing to them except add accessories and wiring. The customer could order chrome goodies on them, but that was separate from the plant, the time on the line for me...not one Cat that I ever saw had any chrome on it. Only one Detroit came to us directly from their factory with intake and valve cover covered in the shiny stuff!! With Cummins, it was not until the Signature 600 came out that we saw them with (usually) the valve cover factory done.

Oddball motors would be the KT series of Cummins, the one CNG Star we did for a truck show (this one eventually came back and was taken apart and used in Mock-up), the John Deere diesel (YES...a JD!!!)that we installed for another truck show. I was in the warehouse at the time, and took this motor from there directly to Mock-up for inspection. I am not sure if they did the install or if it was done on line. Never seen that one after...so maybe some farmer wanted it really bad for his operation!!!

Show trucks...every year, the orders came through and we built whatever was called for. Back in 1986(?) they had a show truck that they gave away (called the Midnight Star?) through some promotion at the truck stops. I was told this thing was ALL black, except the tanks, mirrors, bumpers...whatever was usually chrome was powder coated gloss black. Interior was done up in some sort of tan leather from England(?), Brazil(?) and was the only one ever done. The guys who worked on this, said it was a very sweet looking truck...not sure what ever happened to it? The LOWMAX....man, this is a cool lookin' truck...the first one built had every piece of factory chrome on it. Then they started shopping...got rid of the duals, replaced with super singles, interior, exterior...more stainless and chrome!!! The paint job was a base of silver and had multiple colours from hood to sleeper (back then, ALL stripes were painted on, near the end the company started using more decals. So if you had a black truck with 8 different coloured stripes on it, this thing would go thru sanding/masking MULTIPLE times to get done!!! This is why they had THREE shifts in that department...just to try and keep up!!) The Lowmax is based on the 4900 series, and the first time I seen it parked beside a stock 4900, I would have thought that Boyd Coddington or Chip Foose came and chopped and channeled it!!! One customer show truck that came by yearly was the Indy pacecar transporter sponsored by Dupont...they painted the truck and trailer with their "flip-flop" paint ($50 grand worth), usually there would be a bbq and this unit came by, everyone got to go wander through the trailer and check it out!!


thinking of more........

Edited by dieseldog1970, 19 May 2012 - 01:27 PM.