Bob Rutherford

Interview by
Published on
May 26, 2022

In this episode...

The best stories from the road come from someone who has put in the miles. Bob Rutherford is a 50-year veteran of the trucking industry, and thirty of those years were as a member of the American Trucking Association/Technology & Maintenance Council’s (TMC) where he earned both the Silver Spark Plug and Recognized Associate awards for his contributions to the industry. And boy does he have some stories - from his thoughts about the future of trucking, autonomous trucks, how artificial intelligence and data can help the industry streamline processes, and how reading trucking industry news reminds him of past industry events and how we should learn from history. The Truck Stop Philosopher, Bob Rutherford, sits down with Life By The Mile for one of the most colorful episodes of the podcast. Comment your thoughts on the episode below.

Bob Rutherford

Truck Stop Philosopher *Activist Writer * Student of History, Predictive Maintenance Manifesto for the Trucking Industry


so a truck could go from nashville to la on the rails with the driver with the tractor the whole thing autonomously so instead of having all these autonomous vehicles on our highways with cars they'd be on these rails instead of forming trains you know taking two or three days to get the thing freight starts moving immediately they hook up a a rail car with a power unit and it's autonomously on its way welcome to life of the mile delivered by brakeworks one of america's fastest growing podcasts actually produced by trucks indicted to tell stories compelling drivers i need to do something bigger drivers all here right now

this is life by the mile delivered by freightworks i'm your host butch malpe and it is a delight you know we try to bring you a variety of guests and today i know we're going to have a very eclectic and interesting conversation i'm with bob rutherford uh he uh his twitter page by the way go go to that it describes him as a truck stop philosopher activist writer student of history predictive maintenance manifesto for the trucking industry which is a great description and then beyond that what i loved is hearing that he's he's a 50-year veteran of the trucking industry so he can bring in a lot of history and perspective along the way his contributions to the industry have been recognized among others by the american trucking association technology and maintenance council they have this silver spark plug for technical excellence and the recognized associate award for supporting the organizations membership committee bob welcome we're really grateful to have you i'm glad to be here well let me let me start out by asking the question that i i really wanted to ask what is a truck stop philosopher

basically an ex-salesman i used to sell seats for national seating i've sold turbochargers back in the day when most engines were naturally aspirated uh i'm 75 years old went into retirement then went into semi-retirement and uh i just don't try to sell anybody anything i just try to educate them which is one reason i became a member of the tmc me and a couple of associates decided that an educated customer was so much more fun to deal with than somebody that didn't have a clue of how all the systems on the truck integrated supposed to work together and probably the product that had the most impact on my life was the fan clutch because it intersected not only with cooling the engine but then as time progressed and they added the air conditioning condensers i mean student history i mean when i started with a fan clutch it had one thermal switch and a solenoid and the clutching mechanism then they added the uh air conditioning condenser in front of it so that needed a switch to turn it on otherwise it wouldn't come on then they added the charge air cooler and that uh you know first came on without any sensors on it and then they said well damn you know if we're going to try to charge the air and cool it we need the way to turn the fan on when there's not enough airflow to cool that then transmission coolers came involved then the poor fan clutch it operates by air so you get 60 psi because of an air leak because somebody at the factory an engineer decided i think i'll just run the airline right next to a 1500 degree turbo charger and let's see how that plastic and rubber hose holds up to 1500 degrees i can tell you from firsthand experience it'll go almost exactly 138 to 140 000 miles before it deteriorates and has an air leak i mean that's a funny way to do uh science experiments on real trucks trying to deliver freight so and then uh the solenoid that controls the air is controlled by electricity so a loose ground wire raises havoc with the uh right uh electronic mechanism so you know there's there's 20 different ways to kill a fan clutch and guess what every mechanic said every time a fan clutch failed bad japanese bearings or then it turned out to be chinese bearings it was always bad bearings well the bearings would have never failed if they hadn't overheated because the clutch was slipping right you slipped the clutch during the reheat degree so anyway that's that's why i'm a philosopher instead of a salesman but you know what's interesting and every day there's more problems to solve you know right right but what's interesting about that is bob it seems that you were able to uh diagnose what was really going on there and so often i guess from a production standpoint when you look at oems you that there's not always an end user in mind maybe they're better than they used to be i i don't know what do you think what is there more of a driver-centric approach by oems these days well you know in 50 years i worked for a lot of manufacturers and a lot of manufacturers to go through changes a good example is national seating when i started with national seating they define the customer as the truck driver we want to have the best seat and and there's unfortunately two kinds of people that buy truck seats the guy that never rides in a truck seat the vp of maintenance or the president of the company hardly ever rides in the in the truck seat and then the guy that runs into that actually rides in the seat so you want to know who pays a thousand dollars for a seat the guy riding in the seat uh then so you define the driver and then who who the drivers work for the fleets so we had a big what's called fleet pull through at national seating back in the day and i'd call on the fleet guy and in fact i printed up a little joke business card and it said i'm here to sell you something you can't buy yet and it was tomorrow's seat so i try to get a fleet in fact one of my star examples in fact i just read about them they lost money for some reason this past quarter but the u.s express i mean they topped top of the line seat spec them you know we want our drivers to uh you couldn't add there was no other bells and whistles to add to the seat so i sold you know that was my claim to glory back in the uh late 90s early 2000s was i sold top of the line seats to u.s express that is great well then like so many corporations say what that's great i feel like i'm doing all the talking here so anyway

so uh anyway that company gets bought out by a corporation in fact uh transport topic says a big story mergers and acquisitions so anyway i ended up getting fired because the company decided that the real customer in their hearts and soul are the oem truck builders so what are we doing with fleet salesmen just running around in fact fleet guys like bob rutherford he gives away parts for warranty he gives away demo seats bob rutherford is quote-unquote a giveaway artist we need sales guys that can call on truck dealers so they got rid of me and hired guys that call on truck dealers and uh i don't know where they're at now i don't follow them because i'm a truck stop philosopher and it's not part of my philosophy so uh but anyway stuff like that happens in business bob let me let me ask you this when you look back at the industry and we'll talk about looking forward in a minute here but when you look back what are the most dramatic changes that you've seen over the 50 years i mean paint with a mop you don't have to paint in detail but what are the biggest changes that you've seen occurring through the years

well the whole concept of whether there's a truck driver shortage or not and i've got a bit of an engineering background i was an industrial engineer and i'm the kind of person that it's either black or white there's either a shortage of drivers or there's not and uh you know the ata and i think the trucking industry is a whole lot more political today than it was in the past you have the ata saying we need 80 000 more drivers and the uh oida people owner operators independent drivers association is saying uh you know we got a retention problem we got a pay problem and then my uh theory of the case is i've studied uh economics and politics in college is uh if there's really a driver shortage wages would be going up complaints would be going down uh every receiver if you want to get your goods you better have a nice clean well-maintained bathroom for the truck drivers or guess what you're not getting your freight well apparently there's not a truck driver shortage because truck drivers are abused i mean you know a lot of my job was i'd live at a dealership i live at a fleet i'd be in the driver's lounge teaching the drivers about seats i'd be teaching mechanics about fan clutches and uh you know i hang out at ward international one of my favorite places in the whole wide world in mobile alabama uh yeah i mean great people so i'm you know i'm training three shifts of mechanics training the parts people and uh you know i'm like a fly on the wall i see everything that goes on how every truck driver is treated and they treated theirs outstanding from great accommodations for the drivers and then i'd be in other places you know they're making the drivers wait the driver needs going to stay overnight call a taxi to get to the hotel two miles away at ward international you know they'd cater and lunch if they had a bunch of drivers waiting on trucks and uh uh other places it's like there's the vending machine good luck right and then some parts of the world you don't want to live out of a vending machine exactly bob you know when when you look at the marketing for truck and by the way what i love is being able to tap into five decades of wisdom about this when you look at the marketing for most trucking and logistics companies they talk about pay safety we care about you you're not just a number home time they're all using the same language what is it that really distinguishes some companies from others because you know one of the things we're trying to do here at freightworks is is to be a company that's consistent its values make good on its promises and we're not perfect but we're committed to get better what do you find about the companies that are really good

they don't lie to the recruits as they're trying to recruit them i mean brutal honesty is the best way to go and like i said being a fly on the wall on dealerships i have seen drivers i mean the guy just started with the company right he needs 300 worth of work done okay it takes breakdown four hours to call the dealership back to authorize a three hundred dollar repair i mean it's it's a waste of the guy's time you know keep your drivers on the road you know get considered a cost of business let's say it was uh you know it probably took whoever was running breakdown five minutes to do the paperwork and make the approval but you make the poor driver wait four hours and then they they're going to [ __ ] at him when he misses his delivery window and then he they reschedule it and he gets there he's busting to use the bathroom and uh no drivers allowed in the bathroom i mean in fact if i was a trucking com i assume you guys are trucking right trying to recruit drivers yeah you know i wasn't all afraid for anybody that abuses my drivers if you if if my guy can't get there and use the bathroom have some other facilities maybe instead of having to sleep in the sleeper you have a little break room set up in fact one of my jobs in my past i just raked people over the coals on our shipping dock if i saw them abuse a driver and it's like sport for some of these guys on the shipping docks you know in fact in the parts business and service business you know trying to rip off an owner operator is some of the the biggest joy that some people get out of life in this business and i never worked for such an organization but i've been in them you know training mechanics training drivers and uh and then you know until i retired until i got out of the sales game and become a philosopher i couldn't talk about it because there's rules and sales right you don't bite the hand that feeds you right that's for sure and bob look look at all the money you made in trucking bob now you're gonna say these guys are a bunch of jerks now you can't say that as a salesman right but the thing bob that is really important is that i think in your in your role because you've been in so many different sectors and you've there's been the consistency of five decades you're able to be a little more prophetic i mean to point out these are systemic problems that we have that we've got to deal with and i know here at freight works we get drivers that come in from other companies and it's not to say that our company is perfect but we get drivers that come in and they are so beat up bob they've been lied to so much they've been abused so much they've been told they're a commodity they're just a number they could be moved around and monetized and commoditized it takes a while for them to kick the tires and see we're going to be truthful in what we say so i think what you're saying is really really important yeah well and i think for fleets of the future telematics in fact i wrote an article related to a secure truck stop parking and i mentioned two companies tangerine artificial intelligence that i'm doing research and development projects with at auburn university in fact because of my fan clutch background auburn has been able to get a patent applied for on using artificial intelligence to monitor the fan clutch so it never fails now that's a great selling point for recruiting a driver say look we'll know a truck problem before you know about it in fact we had an instance where we had knew a component was going to fail called the shop and uh you know supply chain issues you can't get parts nowadays so uh they were able to get the parts on faith two weeks in advance before the part failed when it finally failed the part was ready they scheduled the truck in no one scheduled maintenance so uh you know having uh a full slate of telematics and uh one of the things that i propose in an article and when i write articles i write about the future so i wrote i wrote an article saying uh i've got a new way of writing and uh because 10th street and tangerine everybody wants permission to use their name in a magazine article like you guys if i do a follow-up article on this conversation uh oh we we want we want to see your your article well i don't do that i'm i'm writing about the future and you know it's uh i'm not saying this is how you are what you are but this is what my suggestion is about the future so anyway talking about uh truck parking you know i have a vision of when trucks are being tracked like each one of your trucks and especially fleets reaching out to owner operators because a lot of them you get in a capacity bind you'll lease on temporary owner operators but hey we're going to give you this whole telematics suite we're going to track you we're going to have a database of unsafe parking areas you know not not truck stops and things like that but you know is it safe to park near this receiver that you're going to and then if the guy's run out of hours or he's just too fatigued to go find a safer spot to park because he's being warned through an app that hey this is not the best place to park then the system would have a database of law enforcement uh i'm sure you got you got safety and security people on your payroll someone like you you sign up through the app and say if an owner operator or any trucker from any company we got safety and security people you let us know through the app where they're at and there's a schedule that uh our company will be there at three o'clock in the morning to make sure everything's fine and i figure for law enforcement you know because i've done some work in freight security you don't have to come up with you don't have to come up with a bait truck okay we this guy is automatically on his own not wanting to but he's becoming bait for thieves for you know something bad so so set so official law enforcement set up on this truck and see if the bait's taken any time that evening you know he save two or three lives a year it might be worse i love it it's business fiction isn't it yeah that's what i i couldn't think of i wrote it but i can speculative business i know i read it and hear the notes on on this uh interview were extremely helpful this is uh bob ruthersberg he's a truck stop philosopher among other things an activist writer you write for ccj which is great let me ask let me ask you this i'm going to ask you to be a prognosticator and look up around the corner what does that look like well it could be you know what creative minds are rarely tidy and sometimes you gotta hit the hornet's nest don't you bob so let me ask you well like john john lewis said uh get in some good trouble well and and somehow viscerally i get the sense that you've done that before but you brought you've taken from it experiences that are so helpful to hear i want you to look up around the corner and tell me what does the trucking and logistics industry look like in 2040

2040. i wish you would have given me a up that i don't look that far into the future

just tell us where you know tell us where you see us

okay this is way out there in fact uh and i'm recalling it a uh article i wrote for uh transport topics on this

i live in a small town antenna it used to be a small town uh we got yep we got railroad tracks three o'clock in the morning you can hear the train the trains coming they're blowing their horn you know i've never seen maybe in five years a train on the tracks two or three times and i think if you're going to have autonomous vehicles it'd be very easy in fact uh trains themselves you know they put down 50 cars 100 cars to form a train uh a guy contacted me he found my uh transport topics article and he said bob we're doing what you predicted in the future instead of trucks each truck being loaded onto a platform and having its own power unit so a truck could go from nashville to la on the rails with the driver with the tractor the whole thing autonomously with a 50 horsepower turbine engine powering a flatbed with a tractor trailer and driver and the power unit that's 50 horsepower could also have sleeping accommodations much better than a truck so instead of having all these autonomous vehicles on our highways with cars they'd be on these rails that's you know every all your listeners every time you see a train track how many trains you see on the track so interesting now imagine that is so interesting yeah so anyway this but this guy in western canada contacted me and he said bob we're experimenting with that right now we got 50 and i predicted to 50 horsepower because i knew 5 000 horsepower for a a hundred cars is about what it would take uh and they're doing it instead of forming trains you know taking two or three days to get the thing freight starts moving immediately they hook up a a rail car with a power unit and it's autonomously on its way weiss you know screw around with 5 000 horsepower and uh waiting to put a hundred cars together i think that is so very i think that's very interesting you know it's an aside but uh the billionaire phil and shoots years ago saw the rail lines and said to himself those unused rail lines many places around the country particularly in the west would be great for me to lease and i'll go ahead and put fiber optics down where they are and that's how phil anschutz became a billionaire so thinking outside the box like that is so so interesting that i love that i love that concept

and and what uh let me let me ask you this when you look back at the whole sales process uh in you in your life you obviously were born with those gifts do you remember the first thing you sold

actually i sold uh i worked for fleet guard filters uh as a young industrial engineer and they were building a hundred thousand square foot additional warehouse they started with a factory in a small warehouse and then everything took off so they needed to do this hundred thousand hundred square foot warehouse and as an industrial engineer very few people had material handling experience and uh out of all the ones that had none i had a little bit more than most so uh they said we want you to design a warehouse and we're gonna you know think in a special of in-floor tow lines instead of lift uh lift trucks uh different kinds of palleting uh float flow conveyors a lot of conveyors so we want you to design this and i said well there's a trade show coming up in cal palace in san francisco california in 1971 i believe it was and i said authorize my travel to this material handling trade show and they said engineers don't travel sales people travel you know what they said well look i'm going to go to the trade show if you want me to do this otherwise that's the first time i almost got fired otherwise i'm not going to do the project if i can't go to a trade show on material handling and you want me by about an estimated quarter million dollar budget of equipment uh i'm not going to do it and they said well okay i guess there's always a first for somebody so off i went to a trade show spent three or four days there and uh basically i'd you know visit the booths i was interested in and there's always two or three booths for the same item so i'd listen to the salesman take copious notes and i started making notes like you know this guy shouldn't have said this this you know this ain't going to convince me to buy his product so i started comparing salesmen and said well you know if the day ever comes i got to be a salesman uh i'll do the good stuff and leave out the bad stuff so uh then then i get back and i put my proposal together and then they pop a big surprise away on me you say bob you got to go to the uh appropriations committee in columbus indiana and convince them to give us the quarter million dollars so anyway our first big major presentation in front of about a dozen people some of them had the unofficial title sharpshooter their whole point was to shoot you down and make you go home because nobody gets gets a quarter million dollars from cummins to to do this on the first try so anyway i was prepared i had all the uh i covered a lot of objections in my presentation which i had studied up a little bit about uh a sales technique don't wait for the objection cover it in the presentation so they can't object to it and then have alternatives because there will be objections so uh basically i got uh the the money and a voice in the back of the room which i didn't recognize that you know they introduced a dozen people and i didn't take notes and get business cards he said we don't need a young whipper snapper like you hustling us for this kind of money hell is that a compliment or an insult you know so two weeks later the national sales manager called me up and said uh according to the uh guy in charge of logistics and distribution he said uh you want to be a salesman

so anyway they had me go to Dallas texas I was about 24 25 years old then and they offered me a sales job a nice expense account uh they wanted you to entertain the customers develop rapport uh customers in those days were the cummins distributors and uh air travel card and this is back before 9 11. i mean nobody was ever in a middle seat and uh winding and dining customers of rental cars always get a nice fancy rental car uh 24 years old and i i did what a lot of people wait till the 65 to do traveled the south-southwest i had las vegas in my territory el paso texas all of southern california new mexico so uh that's how i got in sales and i said man why would i ever want to work for a living i'll just stay in sales so that's what i did bob uh the mark of great conversations i often say this is that they start to come to an end we've got three minutes left here this is bob rutherford i love the moniker truck stop philosopher there are a lot of things that can be said about your background but that is a great umbrella for all the things that we've been touching on here today he's an activist writer best way for people to reach you as house

uh google or join linkedin if you're not on linkedin and look up bob rutherford and actually bob rutherford number one as one of the first bob rutherford's on linkedin but due to my activity and my writing uh i'm usually the first name to to pop up there great that's a great place to to find them and you know what you didn't know this when you jumped on board here but we actually give a gift so we're gonna need to get your address here after another surprise so now i get to be like an infomercial with qvc and i get to tell you what prize you get to pick so the first option here is a this one over really well at mats it's got that red white and blue on the back of the cap it's got the leather life by the mile insignia there that's option number one option number two bob is a genuine yeti mug you've got the freightworks one logo you got the life by the mile mo logo of course yeti is its own culture and then we've got another cap option which is the freightworks one logo of course this is freightworks sponsoring life by the mile and so which of those would you like uh number one the one with the red white you know what this just went over gangbusters at matt's and that was my first match by the way that was quite the experience but we will get your address if you send that to us we'll send this along to you and and bob i i knew when i read through the article that you forwarded pre-publication and a little description about you that you were going to be colorful interesting informed and have some historic perspective that would be valuable you've been unlike really any of the guests that we've had so far i'm really grateful i hope we could do this again well like i warned you on the beginning that i've done one other podcast and the host said let's change subjects before we alienate the entire audience and that didn't happen this time so i guess i'm making progress and or we might be a good team together i'm not quite sure but from franklin tennessee here in rutherfordton north carolina right in the foothills of the appalachian mountains this is life of the mile delivered by freightworks i'm your host butch malpe make sure you hit the subscribe button get the notifications that bell engage like share and help build the life by the mile community so that we can have more guests like bob rotherford on today we thank you so much thanks for watching this episode you know life by the mile delivered by freightworks is one of the newest largest and fastest growing podcasts actually produced by a trucking company now we want you to like and share this episode if you'd like to see more episodes click here and make sure that you subscribe to the channel by clicking here we'll see you there

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