PHOENIX—Those who wagon-trained from Missouri to Oregon in the mid-1800’s had an arduous trip ahead of them. Movies like “Westward Ho, The Wagons!” and TV programs like “Wagon Train” paint a sobering picture of the challenges pioneers faced and history backs the stories up.
Back when “prairie schooners” were the only vehicles available for long-distance moving, U-Haul Dealerships weren’t on convenient street corners, of course … and a covered wagon could carry only a fraction of the weight easily toted by U-Haul Company’s fleet of trucks and trailers.
Here and now
The commitment to providing reliable and dependable equipment is the same as it was when U-Haul co-founder L.S. (Sam) Shoen and U-Haul pioneer Hap Carty built the first trailers on the Carty farm in Ridgefield, Wash. Current-day quality control is remarkable, thanks in good measure to Bob De Kruyff, director of U-Haul Design and Development Controls, and his every other year, 250-mile excursion with trucks and trailers.
“A test trip would be more focused on engineering details, instrumentation and data,” De Kruyff told U-Haul News. “Our runs are directed more toward the customer’s hands-on experience, so these trips are not meant to be heavy-duty engineering exercises.”
An evaluation trip generally runs seven combinations: a mixture of U-Haul trucks and trailers, and representative cars. “Representative means different sizes of vehicles,” De Kruyff explained, “and by doing an odd number of vehicles, we can work out a rotation where every driver and every passenger can operate each vehicle or vehicle/trailer combination.”
Up and down the topography
De Kruyff ’s entourage departs from the U-Haul Technical Center and heads southeast toward Tucson by way of Casa Grande. This first leg enables the group to get in some highway mileage, before cutting over toward Florence, which takes them east on two-lane roads.
“The road out of Florence is called the Florence-Kelvin Highway, though I use the term ‘highway’ loosely,” De Kruyff laughed. “The roadway starts out paved and then turns to gravel and finally to dirt, which gives our team handling experience on a wide variety of road surfaces.”
Thanks to this range of routes, De Kruyff and his team can pinpoint certain conditions they want U-Haul Team members and the equipment to experience.
“As one example,” he said, “let’s say we’re looking at possible vehicle overheating or uphill/downhill issues. We can pick and choose different road ‘scenarios’ depending on what performance factors we want to evaluate.”
On the full-fledged run, the trip involves 14 participants—a driver and a passenger in each vehicle—in addition to a support group, some of whom lead from the front, while others bring up the rear. “Our support group makes sure we don’t get lost,” De Kruyff noted, “and also helps us if we get stuck. They’re in separate vehicles. If we do a full photo or video follow-up, members of the support group will be in predetermined locations—to document the journey and help validate the conditions we experience.”
De Kruyff began his evaluation-testing road trips to add to results achieved on the U-Haul test track. He’s quick to point out that there’s nothing like the real thing when it comes to evaluating rental equipment traveling over various road surfaces. And there’s also the element of camaraderie that makes such trips a remarkably positive experience.
“Evaluation trips such as these give us the chance to do a little bonding,” De Kruyff affirmed. “It’s all about getting to know people on a different level than what you can reach by meeting in a conference room. When people are involved in this realtime experience,” he continued, “everyone becomes aware of things they wouldn’t notice during a quick ride around the proving grounds.”
In the background of the actual driving, De Kruyff ’s team collects live data from the vehicles’ computers, including road elevation, vehicle speed, GPS coordinates and engine parameters. These data captures enable Tech Center engineers to examine electronic input, and replicate … in the test lab and in detail … any portion of the trip.
Out in the real world
“Over the years, automakers developed similar procedures,” De Kruyff stated. “I took that knowledge and applied it to what we do at U-Haul. I run the test lab, and the test lab must move out of the lab and into the real world in order to make our validation more meaningful,” he explained. “It’s also a way to share with U-Haul Team members who don’t have a chance to get into the test lab … while also giving them a wide variety of experience with our products.
“And I’d like to emphasize how proud I am of our support people,” De Kruyff praised. “They’re behind the scenes making this happen. This whole process takes a tremendous effort, and it was an amazing experience for the support people as well as for those who actually drove the U-Haul equipment. I’m grateful to everyone who participated.”
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