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APRIL/MAY <strong>2020</strong><br />

Features<br />

14 > ‘Pride in my ride’:<br />

Arkansas trucker brings<br />

solar power, style to his<br />

‘96 Peterbilt<br />

10 > On Trucking<br />

22 > Puzzle<br />

General Manager: Megan Hicks<br />

Editor-in-Chief: Wendy Miller<br />

Art Director: Rob Nelson<br />

Art Assistant: Christie McCluer<br />

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Georgia’s planned ‘truck-only’ lanes<br />

would be first to officially exclude<br />

noncommercial vehicles<br />

By Linda Garner-Bunch<br />

While the concept of separate “truck-only” drive lanes,<br />

separated from other traffic by barrier walls or medians,<br />

is not a new idea, the actual implementation is a<br />

relatively novel concept for the U.S. Sure, it’s common for truckers to see<br />

signs directing them to restrict usage to one or two lanes, but those lanes<br />

are not usually physically set apart from the others.<br />

Two of the nation’s first truck-only lanes are along Interstate 5 in Los<br />

Angeles, and more may be implemented in the near future. Black-andwhite<br />

signs, which are enforceable by law, direct trucks to follow these<br />

lanes. However, green signs, NOT enforceable by law, advise passenger<br />

cars and noncommercial vehicles to remain in the main travel lanes, according<br />

to California’s state transportation department (Caltrans). The<br />

result? Noncommercial vehicles can mingle with the big rigs in the socalled<br />

“truck-only” lanes, effectively canceling the lanes’ original purpose<br />

“to separate trucks from other mixed-flow traffic to enhance safety and/<br />

or stabilize traffic flow.”<br />

While several states, including Texas, Arizona and others, have tossed<br />

around the idea of creating truck-only lanes with similar goals of facilitating<br />

traffic flow in congested areas, only one has set a concrete plan into<br />

motion.<br />

Although the concept in Georgia will be the first to exclude<br />

noncommercial vehicles by law, there are two truckonly<br />

lanes in Los Angeles. Shown above is a rendering of<br />

Georgia’s proposed truck lanes. (Courtesy: Georgia Department<br />

of Transportation)<br />

The Georgia Department of Transportation’s Major Mobility Investment<br />

Program (MMIP), a long-range, five-pronged plan put into<br />

motion in 2016 with a projected total completion date of 2032, includes<br />

the I-74 Commercial Vehicle Lanes project. The project will<br />

add barrier-separated lanes devoted to commercial traffic along a<br />

40-mile stretch of northbound Interstate 75<br />

between Macon and McDonough, part of a heavily traveled freight corridor<br />

between Savannah, one of the nation’s major shipping ports, and<br />

Atlanta, where shipping giant UPS Inc. is headquartered.<br />

The nontolled lanes are slated for the use of commercial trucks only,<br />

with passenger and general-use vehicles prohibited — a first for the U.S.<br />

Other prongs of MMIP include revamping interchanges at I-16 and<br />

I-95, I-285 and I-20 West, and I-285 and I-20 East; adding express lanes<br />

at three points along I-285 and along SR 400; widening parts of I-85<br />

and I-16; and completing advanced-improvement projects in a variety<br />

of areas.<br />

According to GDOT’s website, “The I-75 Commercial Vehicle Lanes<br />

Project will improve mobility and safety for freight operators and vehicles.<br />

… The project will benefit all motorists by reducing congestion and<br />

improving safety while offering direct economic benefits to travelers in<br />

Georgia as well as freight and logistic carriers in the Southeast.”<br />

In the Winter <strong>2020</strong> issue of Milepost, GDOT’s quarterly publication,<br />

Tim Matthews, MMIP program manager, described the I-75 commercial-vehicle<br />

lanes project as a “big win” for GDOT.<br />

“The acceleration of this project supports freight mobility and traveltime<br />

reliability for all along this important corridor,” Matthews wrote.<br />

“Through these major projects, Georgia DOT will deliver some of the<br />

nation’s most innovative transport solutions and the newest engineering<br />

and technical advances by addressing congestion, adding capacity and<br />

supporting transit.”<br />

An article published in March 2018, Roads & Bridges, a trade publication<br />

aimed at the road- and bridge-construction industry, quoted the<br />

estimated cost of the project at $1.8 billion, adding that GDOT estimates<br />

a 40% reduction in traffic delays along the route.<br />

According to a timeline posted at majormobilityga.com, a website<br />

that offers updates on the program, construction on the commercialvehicles-only<br />

lanes is slated to begin in 2024, and GDOT hopes to have<br />

the stretch open to traffic by 2028.<br />

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‘Pride in my ride’: Arkansas trucker brings solar<br />

power, style to his ‘96 Peterbilt<br />

By Wendy Miller<br />

Photos of a Peterbilt with solar panels on top and a Batman<br />

logo on the side of the sleeper have made their rounds online<br />

with sightings and posts from Pennsylvania to Arizona. Social<br />

media trucking groups are buzzing as many wonder “who’s truck is<br />

that?” and “how do you put solar panels on a truck?” Well, The Trucker<br />

tracked down the owner of this striking Peterbilt and luckily, he was<br />

willing to share the details of what he says is “just a work truck.”<br />

First things first, what’s up with those solar panels? “That’s what everyone<br />

talks about —those panels,” Chad Fowler, a native of Conway,<br />

Arkansas, said with a smile. He suggested making a small sign with<br />

all the details and standing it in front of the truck while he is parked<br />

at the truck stop. He gets lots of questions.<br />

“When I was a kid, we would get these magazines that always had<br />

things in the back for sale, and I always saw these solar panels and I<br />

thought ‘why isn’t everybody doing that?’” Fowler said. “It is free energy.”<br />

As he got older, solar panels became more common and more affordable.<br />

After a long career as a diesel mechanic, Fowler was ready for<br />

a change and decided to buy a truck and go over the road. He purchased<br />

a 1996 379 Peterbilt with a simple black and chrome design, but only a<br />

couple of years after he bought the truck, it was hit in a truck stop parking<br />

lot. He took the downtime for repairs as an opportunity to design a<br />

truck that would be as cool as it is comfortable. And he remembered that<br />

“free energy” he had seen advertised.<br />

“Everybody said ‘you can’t put solar panels on a truck,’” Fowler said.<br />

“To my knowledge, I’m one of the first ones to do that.”<br />

Fowler debunked that myth quickly with the help of a few friends<br />

who were up for a challenge. Within 90 days, a damaged 1996 Peterbilt<br />

was transformed into the striking, energy-efficient truck that is catching<br />

eyes all over the country.<br />

Simply put, the panels funnel energy into a charge controller underneath<br />

the sleeper that charges a battery bank. When the batteries are fully<br />

charged, the controller shuts the panels off. That means Fowler doesn’t<br />

have to idle when he isn’t on the road — at least not for about 10 hours.<br />

The energy banked from the solar panels is enough to power everything<br />

in his sleeper, including a television, cooking equipment and even<br />

the air conditioning system. Fowler said he also saves fuel. How much<br />

fuel? Fowler said in the first year the energy from his solar panels kept<br />

nearly $20,000 in his pocket.<br />

After the accident but before the work got started, Fowler took to<br />

Texas where the company he is leased to, Generic Trucking, is based.<br />

He found the owner had recently purchased two trucks with 110-inch<br />

double eagle sleepers. He asked to have one, and that sleeper now dons<br />

a large Batman logo as a tribute to his ex-wife’s son who passed away.<br />

The truck’s 255-inch wheelbase is stock, but with a sleeper that size<br />

it should be somewhere around 270-inch, so Fowler said someday he<br />

would like to stretch it. To accommodate the sleeper now, he had to<br />

move his fifth wheel all the way to the end of the frame, which has yet to<br />

cause any problems.<br />

Seemingly Fowler’s favorite part of the truck is the hood. He is sure to<br />

use the proper voice inflation to stress that it is a SHORT hood Peterbilt,<br />

but with a few adjustments.<br />

“We took the hood apart and redid it because on a short-hood Peterbilt,<br />

the hood is sloped,” Fowler said. “We got some extended Peterbilt<br />

hood panels and cut them down to fit my front end and took all of the<br />

slope out of it. There’s only a couple of guys who have ever walked up to<br />

it and said ‘man, that’s a short hood.’ It’s just one of the subtle details.”<br />

The EKG design that runs along the hood is an actual heartbeat pattern,<br />

and placed on the hood for a good reason. Fowler said, “It represents<br />

the power under the hood — that’s the heartbeat.”<br />

The heartbeat Fowler refers to is a 700 horsepower 3406E model Caterpillar<br />

engine with a 13-speed transmission. It averages 8.4 miles per<br />

gallon. All in all, Fowler said his truck is a “brand new 1996 Peterbilt,”<br />

which has served him well as he spends most of the year on the road<br />

hauling trade show equipment from coast to coast.<br />

Next question: “Why pink?” The answer will surprise some: “Pink is<br />

my favorite color,” Fowler said. “It’s different.” He admits that he’s often<br />

gotten some comments about pink being his favorite color, but he’s been<br />

told it sets off the color of his eyes.<br />

The speed with which Fowler and his crew completed the transformation<br />

of what he calls his “solar Peterbilt” was in hopes of completing<br />

the job in time to show it to his dad. Unfortunately, his dad passed away<br />

before the truck was completed.<br />

“[My dad] saw it originally when it was black and silver and he loved<br />

it,” Fowler said. “I talked to him on the phone and he said, ‘you’re where<br />

you belong’ because my dad was a worker and he said, ‘get the truck<br />

done, get back on the road and get to work.’ So, that is what I did.”<br />

Even though Fowler didn’t initially jump right into truck driving, he<br />

and his brother basically grew up in the cab of a Kenworth as his dad<br />

hauled chickens for 47 years. He held back tears as he fondly remembered<br />

being raised by a single truck driver. During the school year, he<br />

and his brother stayed with their grandmother, but when school was out,<br />

they were right there in the truck with their dad.<br />

“I don’t see how he did it, because you know how toddlers are,” Fowler<br />

said. “You’ve got two kids in the cab of a little bitty truck, I don’t see<br />

how he didn’t kill us, but we made it work.”<br />

Fowler’s background as a trucker’s kid put a specific idea of a truck’s<br />

décor in his mind, so naturally there are hints of old-school trucking<br />

throughout his solar Peterbilt including chrome accents and lots of<br />

chicken lights.<br />

“I grew up on that stuff,” he said.<br />

Fowler didn’t skimp on the interior details, either. Inside the truck,<br />

the floors are real hardwood which Fowler installed himself for a lot less<br />

money than the $1,300 he was quoted for the job.<br />

“I was raised different than that, so I went down to Lowe’s and got<br />

¾-inch solid wood floor, tongue and groove and made my own wood<br />

floor for a couple hundred bucks,” Fowler said.<br />

14<br />

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Unique but subtle is the overall look that Fowler sought, and he<br />

topped it off with a Batman emblem on the front of the truck where<br />

most feature a Peterbilt logo. The emblem was specifically designed for<br />

him and the “1 of 1” marking on the back ensures that the design will<br />

not be duplicated.<br />

The part of the truck that makes Fowler’s eyes light up the most is<br />

among the most common additions to any trucker’s rig — his CB handle<br />

on both sides of the hood. Fowler goes by Phantom 33, but his dad had<br />

the title first.<br />

“Someday I hope I’m half the man that he was,” Fowler said.<br />

The latest detail Fowler has added to his truck is a replica Rubber<br />

Duck hood ornament (from “Convoy,” of course), but even that purchase<br />

was one that Fowler thoroughly thought through.<br />

“I don’t shop like a lot of people. I pick stuff up and I look at it and<br />

then I put it back,” Fowler said. “It took a while to get the hood ornament,<br />

but that was the final touch to the outside.”<br />

As for the questions Fowler gets while he is one the road, he doesn’t<br />

mind too much. He does, however, get asked often if his truck is a show<br />

truck. He doesn’t have any immediate plans to go that route, but he does<br />

hope that he can help to show that everyone should take pride in their<br />

work.<br />

“I take a lot of pride in my ride; I take pride in everything I do,”<br />

Fowler said. “If I can inspire a few people or the next generation, I’ve<br />

done my job. I want people to get active in the trucking community<br />

again. Years ago, people out here would go out of their way to help one<br />

another. People would even tell their kids ‘if you have a problem out on<br />

the road, just flag down a trucker. They will help you.’ Somewhere along<br />

the way America has lost all of this.”<br />

Chad Fowler and a group of friends transformed his 1996 379 short-hood Peterbilt into a comfortable, energy-efficient ride<br />

in about 90 days. The truck features solar panels, a 110-inch double sleeper, a pronounced Batman symbol and a plethora<br />

of other small details. (The Trucker: Wendy Miller)<br />

16<br />

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