Have you ever stopped to think about how a bare chassis from a factory is transformed into the snow plows that keep the roads open during the winter? Honestly, I never spent much thought on it. In my ignorance I assumed parts were bolted on over a few days and the truck rolled back out the door. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
Over the past couple of years Clarence has sent in some shots of truck upfitting done by the Trius branch in Fort Edward, NY. You might recall a large run of tandem axle Macks for the Pennsylvania Turnpike and an equally large number of trucks for the NYC DEC.
Eventually the good people at the Trius saw these photos and graciously opened their doors for Clarence and myself to take a look around. No more parking lot snooping for us!
Below you see one of the final trucks for another PA Turnpike order. This time around the trucks under construction are single axles with front blade only. Under the hood the trucks are spec’d with the Mack MP7 and the M-Drive automatic manual transmission. In this case trucks arrive as a bare chassis from Mack. The dump bodies arrive from a separate vendor completely devoid of any marking lights or other accessories. It’s up to the crew at Trius to place all required hardware including tarps and load vibrators as requested by Turnpike specifications. The large plow hitch upfront is a design unique to the agency itself and designed to fit any of their plows. Of all of the trucks on the lot none of them will leave Trius with a new blade.
When you think about how trucks are built on an assembly line it’s logical to think that upfitting would follow a similar process but in reality that’s dead wrong. The upfitting process revolves around figuring out how to marry products from a variety of different vendors to a chassis that has it’s own specifications all while meeting the custom needs of the buyer. For instance, components that usually come mounted on the inside of frame rails need to be moved to the outside a specified by the bid. A heating system that is capable of heating both the cab and engine needs to be spliced into the electrical, cooling and fuel systems of the truck. These are just two bullet points on a six page long document that need to be completed before the trucks are ready to hit the road.
It would be a mistake to think these rigs are nothing more than a dump truck with a blade on the front. The amount of technology that is used to keep a modern interstate open is simply staggering. Mirror mounted sensors measure both the ambient and road temperatures for relay to the spreading system to determine the proper mix of liquid to apply. Hydraulic systems monitor the position of the blade and keep it contact with the ground just enough to provide that perfect pressure for plowing. With joystick controls, flat panel displays, and a multitude of presets and settings the modern plow truck interior would befuddle the average driver. Keep in mind, every mechanical and electrical system you see added to these trucks is done by the skilled hands of Trius employees.
After a thorough review the trucks are shipped to a Trius facility in Pennsylvania for a final review by Turnpike employees. Contracted drivers arrive in the middle of the night to perform a final prep and head off to the keystone state as one big shiney convoy of new snow fighting machines.
Building the modern plow truck requires the highest degree of trouble shooting skills of both the people and mechnical variety. The customer will tell you how they want it. The suppliers will tell how you it can be. The role of the upfitter is to take these often different opinions and make a function truck. The crew at Trius know how to make this happen.
A big thanks to Greg for sending out the invitation and an equally as large thanks to Justin for showing us around.