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Million Miler Plus

by Rolf Lockwood

Brian Steckley's Kenworth K100E cabover is pretty much immaculate, even though it's of 1994 vintage and has seen more than its share of road. He and his brother bought it new from London Kenworth and then spent three years as team drivers with Erb Transport, mostly hauling reefer loads to and from California. Then Brian and his wife Tamara bought the truck outright and continued to pile on the miles - more than one million, three hundred thousand of them by the time I caught up to the happy pair in June.

And believe it or not, the 430 Detroit Diesel Series 60 engine that powers the bright red beast hadn't been touched - no repairs at all - until a month before that.

Somewhere right around the 1.3- million mark - and we really do mean miles, not kilometres -- the turbo finally let go, and Brian replaced the radiator as well at the time. But prior to that he hadn't changed so much as a single injector.

"People are amazed when I tell them that," Brian says. "It's just had regular maintenance. Now I'm just trying to see what I can get out of it. I'm pretty curious, so now I'm doing oil analysis.

"When I was turning a million miles, a guy at Detroit Diesel looked at it and declared the injectors perfectly clean."

So what's the secret? When I asked that question I expected to hear Brian talk about sensible, conservative driving habits and regular oil changes and the like. That's all true, but the real secret is automatic transmission fluid, he says.

Once a month he spends eight bucks or so on a jug of tranny fluid and splits it between his two tanks.

He sometimes wonders if the practice might get him in trouble with the revenue man because it's got red dye in it, but so far, so good. He says he knows another guy, also from Erb Transport, who did the same thing and had 1.5 million miles on another Detroit last time Brian checked.

It may also be that he has what one mechanic called "a slippery motor" - one in which the rings
don't sit too tightly in their cylinders, thus letting more lube swarm over the moving bits. That mechanic said the signs would be a little more smoke than normal and what might seem like excessive oil consumption between drains. Sure enough, Brian says his Detroit has been a bit of a smoker from day one, and it uses as much as three gallons of lube between changes. Not surprisingly, he doesn't mind.

You get a clue about the way Brian drives - and how he treats the truck in general -- from more than just his Kenworth's engine. You might expect a clutch to pack it in at anywhere from 175,000 to 300,000 miles, for example, sooner if it's abused. But Mr. Steckley doubles that and a bit more -- he's just at the tail end of his second clutch in all those miles, with the pilot bearing now starting to go. And kingpins? Never touched 'em.

In fact, aside from the recent turbo and rad, plus the first clutch a few hundred thousand miles ago, the only other component of any expense or consequence that he's had to replace was the fifth wheel. And the first one lasted until last year.

"I treat her really nice," Brian says, with understandable affection for the big KW in his voice. "Whatever it needs, I put it on. The truck's never really had a chance to get old. She's still pretty tight."

You won't be surprised to know that the paint is original too, aside from a little patch on one front corner where somebody nerfed him lightly.

The continuing gleam in that red finish may have something to do with the polishing prowess of his four kids - Kaela (11), Kyle (9), Katelyn (5), and Kaleb (3). Their pride in Dad's truck was obvious when we met the family at the recent Palmerston Bobtail Truck Show, and the pleasure of spending a day together as a family was etched on the faces of all six of the Steckley clan. It's a rare treat, of course, and Brian admits a little sheepishly that he couldn't make it home for the births of three of the four children. Tamara laughs a little, hearing that, and then adds that their recent 14th anniversary was the first one they've actually spent together.

Despite those pressures, Brian and Tamara seem to have things pretty much together. She doesn't drive, but taking care of the home front is no small job. "She's the one who stands behind me," Brian says.

He used to take the kids on the odd trucking trip, but it's tough to do that now with four of them. So he spreads the wealth, as it were, taking two of them at a time and staying in hotels with swimming pools. "The kids treat it like a holiday," he says.

Until recently, he'd spent many years hauling flowers to Texas, and it wasn't unusual for him to be away three weeks at a stretch. Now, on with Brenthill Farms, he's home every weekend. He's hauling dairy feed and grains for the most part, usually into Pennsylvania.

Well, he was doing that until the mad cow disease scare effectively closed the border to loads like his. When we met up, Brian and Brenthill had been scrambling for paying freight and not finding much, though he was due to head out the next day with a load of hay to Virginia.

It's tough to be out of work, naturally, but it's a lot easier for him than for most others because his Kenworth was paid for years ago. He's mighty glad the days of debt are behind him.

"I guess that's why I don't buy a new truck," he says. "A new one would be nice, but I prefer to be comfortable."

And comfy he is in that lush, paid for VIT interior, though he does have a complaint along those lines. Certainly not against his beloved Kenworth, rather against the roads he's forced to drive it on. He mentions Interstate 69 through Michigan as an example.

"My biggest grief is the state of the highways," Brian says. "I take care of my truck, but they don't take care of the roads the same way. I'm keeping up with my equipment the best I can so that I can come home to my family and not hurt anybody else along the way. But the highways
departments don't do their share. It's a no-win situation.

"Lousy roads would be bad enough
if you were driving an old beater, but when you're trying to preserve a truck as nice as the teckley
cabover, it's got be a sizeable frustration. Even so, Brian's a happy camper overall. Now, if he can just keep his Kenworth going for another million miles...

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