Nathan Wachtendonk, fleet manager for the City of Green Bay, Wisconsin, Department of Public Works, enjoys buying and selling vehicles and equipment and working with new technologies to stretch his budget further in a responsible way. Here’s how he’s tapped these interests to better his fleet operation.
Repurpose What You Can
By maintaining an older fleet on a limited budget, Wachtendonk has made strides in repurposing older equipment.
“We’ll take some of our retired plow and refuse trucks and repurpose those into garbage trucks or loose-leaf collection vehicles by stretching or shortening frames and putting different suspensions under them. The vehicles are already paid for, so I can overcome my budget shortfall by using them in other ways. If I have two vehicles that are retired, I can take the good parts off of one and use them on the other; you can use two to make one,” he said.
Never Too Early to Prep Winter Equipment
Winter operations are Wachtendonk’s biggest challenge. Maintaining equipment needs is vital no matter how much snow you’re expecting. Unlike other parts of the country this year, Green Bay saw very little snowfall. This provided him and his team with the opportunity to take advantage of the situation to conduct more in-depth maintenance.
“You also have to balance that with the fact you can't take too many vehicles out of service because the amount of snowfall coming down the road can vary pretty quickly,” he said.
The department also has older equipment, so great care must be taken to properly maintain it so Wachtendonk can stick within his budget. The lack of significant snowfall this year provided the department with the perfect opportunity to spend more time on the vehicles they already had.
“We had more time to adjust valves on engines and found some were out of adjustment. It’s easier to perform and stay on top of routine service. We were able to go through hydraulic systems and repair all the minor leaks and change worn out hoses so they didn’t become major. It’s one more thing we can do to help equipment last longer,” he explained.
Wachtendonk is pursuing as many electric vehicles and pieces of equipment as he can. His latest addition is an electric tub grinder — a large yard waste grinding machine that used to be diesel. It now saves quite a bit on maintenance and fuel costs every year.
He and his team are starting to look at creating the infrastructure needed to implement more hybrid and electric vehicles (EVs). With colder mid-western weather, electric vehicle batteries don't seem to hold their charge as well. Another challenge comes in the form of not having many all-wheel drive EV options.
“A lot of EVs are front-wheel drive. Our parking division conducts enforcement during major snowstorms, and it’s hard for them to get around in 10 to 12 inches of snow if they aren’t driving an all-wheel drive vehicle. They require an SUV or pickup truck. Luckily, more of those are starting to come out,” he explained.
Saving Money by Investing in Smarter Parts
A piece of technology Wachtendonk has implemented are electric fans manufactured by EMP for some of the department’s garbage trucks. These take the place of a mechanical fan, helps save fuel, and reduces after-treatment issues.
“This makes it so the vehicles run at a constant temperature, and you don't get as many diesel after treatment issues. The fans have the ability to reverse, blowing out the radiator and keeping it clean so air can properly flow over and reduces possible damaged caused by cleaning the fins with an air hose or pressure washer,” he explains.
He’s also been taking technology from the department’s police cars and using it on garbage trucks, plow trucks, and street sweepers to control strobe lights. They can now run multiple strobe lights, turn signals, reverse lights, and other warning lights with ease.
The department’s police vehicles use a SoundOff Signal product called Blueprint that enables them to control different light patterns, so braking or turning signals aren’t mixed in with strobes.