Idling Roundup
Freedom is power
Jack and Rene Bates have modified their custom cab into a luxury house any grandkid would want to ride in. Their secret: in-cab comfort by any means other than idling.

By Charlie Morasch, contributing writer

The moment you step into Jack and Rene Bates’ 2000 Peterbilt 379 you feel a warm welcome.

It could be Rene’s bright smile or Jack’s sturdy handshake, but nothing beats the parlor-like feel of the couple’s custom 174-inch extended cab’s solid oak flooring and fireplace. Nicknamed, “The Lion’s Den,” the stainless steel-loaded white Pete was hauling a shipping container on the Bates’ flatbed trailer when the couple visited OOIDA headquarters in the spring.

The more you see it, you realize the truck is a grandparents’ home on wheels.

The Bates are longtime OOIDA members leased exclusively to Louisville, Ky.-based Mercer Transportation. Jack spent much of his trucking career hauling cattle long-distance – a niche that has proven profitable. At this stage of Jack’s career, trucking remains lucrative, but also allows him to crisscross the country and check in on five grandchildren and multiple siblings spread out among six states from Nevada all the way down to Georgia.

Work and life hasn’t always been so easy on the couple.

Before Jack and Rene began hitting the road together, trucking was starting to keep them away from each other more than they were together.

“I started out and it was three weeks out before heading home for time off,” Jack said. “Pretty soon, that became five weeks, and then eight weeks. Something had to give.”

Rather than give up trucking, the couple embraced creating home life on the road in Jack’s previous truck, a Kenworth W990 with a cab much smaller than their current custom 14-and-a-half footer.

“It didn’t take too long before Rene had her fill of the short cab,” Jack says, smiling.

The couple bought their used truck last year, and quickly grew to appreciate the truck’s custom cab. It was installed at a Peterbilt factory at the request of its original owner, Jack says. They like the truck so much, in fact, the Bates’ are in the process of truly turning their truck into their permanent residence and selling their house in Payette, Idaho.

And why not? The truck features a full-size refrigerator, coffeemaker, flat screen television, Blu-ray player and laptop station.

This summer, the Bates are installing new heated coils under the flooring to help Rene stay warm during winter. They plan to update the decorating in the truck’s interior and add a stovetop surface. Eventually the truck’s name will change to “The Bates Motel.”

To make a truck into a permanent home, Jack says, requires strong, reliable and versatile power.

And when it comes to power, Jack and Rene have gone all-in to find efficient and cost-effective sources.

Years before idling restrictions began peppering the map, Jack said he has sought out parking spaces that provide plug-in power.

The price of diesel and wear and tear on his engine made him an early believer in alternative power sources. In recent years, Jack said, the couple has become loyal customers of Shorepower Technologies.

“We don’t idle,” he says. “If I idled through the night, it would cost me $35 in diesel.”

The Bates say they are finding more opportunities to plug-in and park nearly every month at Shorepower spaces, which they say charge $1 per hour.

Jack mentioned Virginia recently added two new parking areas with shorepower on Interstate 81, and states like New Jersey have begun investing more in the emissions-cutting plug-in technology. Many cities and counties have also begun enforcing strict idling limits.

Even as the network of plug-in power grows, Jack says there’s only one problem with such parking spaces.

“There’s still not enough of them,” he says. “The demand to stop idling is growing faster now than the ability of infrastructure in place to be able to handle all the trucks needing to plug in.”

To bridge the gaps between Shorepower plug-ins, Jack and Rene have installed alternative power on their Peterbilt.

Jack was inspired by reading Land Line’s August 2011 article, “Plugged in and charged up,” in which Technical Editor Paul Abelson detailed electrical power solutions for changing up plug-ins from DC to household-typical AC current.

Not long after reading the article, Jack bought a 1500 watt power drive inverter from a Flying J truck stop.

“I use this one to run the refrigerator,” Jack said. “I am adding a 3,000 watt Zantrax inverter/charger combo to power the AC plugs when the truck is running and to provide an automatic switch from inverter to shore power to generator. They both are very cost effective for the jobs they must do.”

Jack says the couple’s Industrial 7,000 generator, made by Next Gen of Jacksonville, Fla., provides enough power to head the floor and the fireplace in the winter. In summer, the three-cylinder Kubota diesel can help the truck’s rooftop air conditioner beat the swampy humidity of Florida or the desert scorching sun in Nevada alike.

The generator provides 7,000 watts of juice and has three circuits. The first circuit is 25 amp and works for heating and cooling. The second, with 30 amps of power, cools the bunk and powers their stove and other cooking appliances with enough juice left to power a flat screen television. The third, a 25-amp circuit, powers the truck engine heater and runs all outside tools.

Jack and Rene had time to kill during their visit to OOIDA’s HQ on a sun-drenched, Friday afternoon in Missouri. The next morning they headed west on I-70 to Denver to drop off that shipping container before loading and heading to Salt Lake.

All along the way, on that trip and all to follow, they will remain cool and comfortable while planning visits and overnights with their grandchildren.

“After that,” Jack says, “who knows?” LL