New Truck Gives Crews More Reach

New truck is safer, requires less maintenance – “it even has cruise control and Bluetooth”

When the only way to get parts for your truck is through a military surplus supplier, it’s probably time to get a new truck.

“The hydraulic valves I bought last time out of Florida came from a military surplus vendor; I had to prove to them I was a citizen and I wasn’t building a bomb, and then they charged me $800 a valve – but we got it going,” said Brad Stretch, automotive vehicle mechanic III.

The truck in question was the Condor bucket truck that’s been in use by AzGT transmission crews for 31 years – about a decade past the time when it was still possible to buy replacement parts without extensive searching.

“I was getting parts from all kinds of sources. I was being told they hadn’t been available in 10 years; we’d go find them by getting on the internet, but it was getting to be a real headache,” Stretch said.

So exit the Condor, enter the new Versalift, a 24-ton bucket truck with the most modern mechanical and technical features available, including Bluetooth connectivity that can be used to operate the bucket truck controls as well as provide a real-time analysis on just about every system the truck has.

The old Condor boom truck is shown in the background as members of the AzGT transmission crew line up with the new Versalift truck. From left, sitting on the outrigger: Brandon Guinane and Ralph Rodriguez, hotstick linemen apprentices. Standing, from left: JordanTracey, hotstick lineman apprentice, Barry Jackson, transmission line working foreman, and Brad Stretch, automotive vehicle mechanic III. Not pictured: Jason Searle and Tony Ferraro, hotstick linemen, and Zach Gartin, automotive vehicle mechanic II.

And, the bucket can go sideways. A long way sideways.

You would think it’s important for the boom of a truck used to get someone to the top of a transmission structure to be able to go high, and you’d be right.  This boom tops out at 150 feet.

It’s also important for the boom to have an extensive reach sideways.

“It will help us work faster and safer. It has the same height as the old truck, but it has more reach sideways; it goes further out,” said Barry Jackson, transmission line working foreman.

“The reach is about 75 feet, so you can set the truck up easier, in different areas.

“And that means it’s safer, especially when we’re working around hot conductor, energized line,” Jackson said.

This image shows the Versalift with the boom fully extended to a height of 150 feet.

Robert Bivens, transmission maintenance manager, explained it this way:

“Doing the hot work they do, for example, in order to change out the cross arms on the 230 kV (transmission line) hot, we need that side reach and this one has the great side reach in order to get to the end of the arms when we’re changing them out,” Bivens said.

“With the Condor you had to be set up just right in order to be able to reach; with this one it gives you a little bit of play where you don’t have to be as perfect on your setup,” Bivens said.

Working “hot,” means the lines aren’t de-energized. It also means the truck has to be grounded in such a way that if accidental contact occurs, the current goes straight “to ground” and not through the workers or operators of the truck.

The Condor was so old, the crews quit using it to “work hot.”

“These are all Class-A trucks, and this one’s certified; it’s ready to go,” Stretch said.

“A Class-A truck is where you ‘barehand,’ and now we can barehand with confidence. This one was tested on the way here; they hit it with 720-thousand volts and it held up,” Stretch said.

This image shows the view from the bucket to the ground with the boom fully extended to 150 feet.

Maintenance will be minimal and much less costly.

“This one, you can go 800 hours between oil changes; the other was 250 hours,” Stretch said.

“The old one has an old small-cam Cummins; it’s real old school, but it’s been tough and it’s put up with every driver we’ve had.

“This is a Mack, 455 horsepower, cruise control, automatic; you just set it and put it in gear and go. We’ve gone from one extreme to the other; this one’s got electric door locks, electric windows, everything is just so beautiful in this thing, and the old one didn’t have any suspension in the rear, at all. It really killed the driver,” said Stretch.

Bivens said he wanted to thank both Barry Brown, executive director of transmission engineering and maintenance, and the AEPCO board, for making it possible to get the Versalift.

“I had to look at this one and other manufacturers, and we had to come up with the justification and what I thought would work best for us, and Barry took it to the board and got it approved for us,” Bivens said.

“We’re looking forward to using it and seeing what it does for us; just ready to put it to use,” said Bivens.

Jordan Tracey operates the bucket as the boom is fully extended to a height of 150 feet.