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Getting Behind the Wheels

Jan. 30, 2015
Have you ever wanted to drive a garbage truck? I don’t mean as a profession, just because you could. The opportunity arose for me, and I jumped at the chance.

Have you ever wanted to drive a garbage truck? I don’t mean as a profession, just because you could. The opportunity arose for me, and I jumped at the chance.

I remember even as young boy watching garbage trucks as they came through the neighborhood. Each truck had a three-man crew — one for each side of the street, and a driver. It was especially fun to watch when one of the men stationed at the back would operate the packer drive. A big jaw would rise up out of the bowels of the machine and move toward the truck’s rear bumper. Then it would move down, crushing anything in its path, and retreat into the darkness of the waste chamber while compacting all the material from the previous load.

In fact, this may be the first time I noticed that hydraulic fluid should be kept clean. No, I wasn’t a hydraulics savant, I just observed that even though the trucks were dirty — especially inside the packing chamber — you could see shiny rods with a mirror-like finish. That always seemed puzzling.

Many years later, I discovered, of course, that those were piston rods. They were kept clean by scrapers and seals to keep dirt out of the hydraulic system and keep the hydraulic oil in. I also learned that hydraulics was used because no other technology could transmit the extremely high forces to compact municipal waste within such a confined area.

Getting back to driving a garbage truck, my opportunity came when the City of Oberlin, Ohio scheduled a reception to introduce a fleet of new refuse and recycling trucks using Parker Hannifin’s RunWise hybrid hydraulic systems. You can read details beginning on page 14. After the formal presentations, attendees were invited to drive one of the tucks. That’s the only invitation I needed. I went straight for the trucks waiting outside — even bypassing refreshment table.

As I climbed into the driver seat, I was surprised to see another driver station on the truck’s curb side. The driver station on the vehicle’s left side was pretty normal looking. However, the right-hand seat (on the curb side) has a duplicate set of controls — steering wheel, accelerator and brake pedals, and transmission shifters. The dual driver stations allow a driver to sit on the curb side of the vehicle when collecting waste. However, sitting on the curb side would be inconvenient when driving to and from a landfill or recycling center, so this is when the driver station in the normal position would be used.

In this case, the station on the curb side uses the hybrid hydraulic drive, which provides multiple benefits during the frequent starting and stopping while collecting waste. The conventional drive is more economical for longer-distance travel, so the two drives combine to substantially reduce fuel consumption of each truck. The driving experience itself was uneventful, but at least I can be the envy of my friends, because I’ve driven a garbage truck, and they haven’t. 

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