Particulate Matters: The Last Frontier
Once again, Particulate Matters comes to you by way of my “current situation.” For this installation—well, this part of it—I’m roughly 32,670 feet in the sky, riding Delta Flight 776 from Seattle, Washington, to…Anchorage, Alaska!
Some of you veteran readers may recall a column I wrote not long after assuming the Big Chair here at Diesel Power; an article in which I explained my plan was to hit the road—hard—on seek-and-obtain missions for compelling diesel-related content. Travel can literally take us anywhere, domestically and internationally, provided our budget supports making the trips.
Credit for this attitude goes to “Bigg Steve” Turner, my former editor, mentor, and great friend, who stressed the importance of “going and getting” a good story, information, photos, video, and so on. There’s no promise the juicy pieces of the content are always going to drop right on your plate. I believe that notion is true for many things, not just magazine fodder.
It’s just the middle of June 2017 as I write this. We’re only halfway through the calendar year, and I have already logged more than 25,000 miles in air travel. Yes, I’ve been getting after it (and so has Tech Editor John Lehenbauer), and I think the effort is definitely manifesting itself as valuable. The trips are not only paying off through the articles we’ve published and video coverage and/or updates via Facebook Live, they’re also beneficial to the growth of our network of contacts and partners in the diesel industry, and to meeting and forming friendships with diesel enthusiasts from all over the U.S.
Four days later, almost fittingly, I’m working on Particulate Matters from the friendly skies again aboard Flight 0327, as I make my way back to Los Angeles. I’m closing with a quick update I think will help you better understand what I said earlier about the importance for us to make moves and “go get” material for Diesel Power and trucktrend.com. I made the trip to Anchorage after receiving an invitation from Jeremy May of 907 Diesel (a statewide club with more than 10,000 followers on Facebook) to come check out the group’s annual “Prowl for Power” diesel event. As diesel shows go, this one is a very cool, laidback, two-day gathering held at Alaska Raceway Park in Palmer.
There are no superstars and no egos at this deal, and while it’s competitive (awards are presented for show ’n’ shine, dyno [highest horsepower and torque], and drag racing [bracket eliminator]), the Prowl for Power is really more of a big celebration of the diesel hobby, by people I think many of us in the lower 48 states (endearingly but incorrectly referred to simply as “the States” by Alaskan enthusiasts, as if their place of residence truly is a foreign country) don’t account for when it comes to pursuing diesel high performance.
The hobby is very much alive and thriving in the territory known as the Last Frontier! Diesel pickups in Alaska are typically used for work and play, and owners are into making more horsepower and torque in the same fashion so many of us are: through bolt-on upgrades, bigger or compound turbochargers, injectors and fuel systems, ECM tuning, built transmissions, and such with trucks from each of the Big Three manufacturers.
However, while those tactics are similar, the folks up north deal with challenges most of us are not affected by. The first one is extreme weather. Rain, snow, ice, and long periods of subzero temperature (as low as minus 70 degrees Fahrenheit) that requires running engines overnight and using electric engine-block and oil-pan warmers to keep them operational.
The second, and bigger, challenge Alaskan diesel enthusiasts are up against is the exorbitant cost of shipping parts into the state (double and triple what we in the lower 48 pay). Sure, we take “free shipping” courtesies for granted. Some of us see waiving a charge for sending goods to our front door as a reward or thanks for buying parts from a supplier. Or, in instances when we pay to have parts delivered, we either consider the amounts to be appropriate or accept the costs with an it-is-what-it-is attitude, given the distance packages travel and their weight. Free shipping doesn’t happen for diesel-parts buyers in Alaska. Arm-and-a-leg shipping does.
While the disparity is concerning, I unfortunately have to confess that I don’t have a solution. And, after speaking with several enthusiasts at Prowl for Power and coming to the conclusion that it’s pretty much their only complaint about the industry, I really wish I had some way to make it right. Of course, I think all of us understand it’s just the way businesses have to operate, given the charges they incur from UPS, FedEx, and other carriers for moving goods up to the 49th state.
Of course, there’s no way I can end this on a down note. Alaska’s diesel scene really is awesome, and I think the participants are fortunate that they get to enjoy the hobby in such a beautiful place. Like their brethren down in “the States,” diesel jockeys in Alaska are creative, resourceful, and talented, and they’re building rigs that are just as impressive and stout as trucks I see in other parts of the U.S.
Congratulations to Prowl for Power winners Jack Cato (show ’n’ shine), Calvin Williams (dyno), and Blake Batten (drag race). While they took the titles, everyone involved with 907 Diesel and who supports the diesel hobby in Alaska are aces, in my book.