Truck You, You Truckin’ Truck!

And it’s helpful to remember that, you know, our entire freakin’ economy is based on trucking:

Ricardo Caraballo was having a familiar American experience at the filling station the other day, groaning as the pump clicked up, up, up. By the time he finished it read $505, and his tank was only half full.

A few years ago, “$500 would have kept me rolling for two weeks,” he said. “Now, I’ll be lucky to make it three days.”

Mr. Caraballo is a trucker, and instead of gasoline he was buying 143 gallons of diesel. While the price of gasoline may be on the verge of setting another record, diesel is already there.

According to AAA, the motor club, the average nationwide diesel price has set records on 18 of the past 19 days, including Monday, when it hit $3.83 a gallon.

In the nation’s tool and die plants, in the driver’s seats of farm tractors and in the cabs of the long-haul semis that ply America’s highways, people are feeling the pain.

“It’s killing us,” said Chad Beachler, co-owner of Beachler Trucking, which operates nine trucks in Loudonville, Ohio. “Every day, I come in here and wonder if I have enough money to buy fuel.”

. . .

When Tony Jarachovic bought his white Kenworth semi in 1998, diesel cost 88 cents a gallon. Today the truck’s odometer reads 1.1 million miles. It needs new front tires, which together cost $900, and a major overhaul, which will cost $8,500.

Spending $1,500 a week on fuel has depleted his maintenance budget, however. Now he avoids driving from his home base in Lodi, Ohio, into Pennsylvania because the hills strain his motor. Mr. Jarachovic used to buy Krispy Kreme doughnuts at truck stops, and treat his family to dinner at Applebee’s every Sunday. Now his wife cooks extra spaghetti so he can eat leftovers on the road.

“I have no expenses left to cut,” Mr. Jarachovic said.

Trucking companies are looking for efficiencies, as well. O & S Trucking of Springfield, Mo., recently installed electronic devices in each of its 350 trucks to kill the engines automatically after they idle for two minutes, said Jim Frieze, the equipment director. And all the company’s trucks have devices that limit roadway speeds; Mr. Frieze has dialed those down from 70 miles an hour to 65 to conserve fuel. He audits every truck’s computer every week, searching for wasteful habits.

“If a driver’s gear shifts take him over 1,800 r.p.m., he’s just blowing fuel out the stack,” Mr. Frieze said. “I take him aside and counsel him to shift faster.”

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