Of bread … and diesel

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Diesel power is working for us today – in our everyday lives – in key sectors of our economy like trucking, freight rail, industrial applications, passenger transportation, construction, agriculture, back-up emergency power and emergency response. Diesel technology is working 24/7 to keep our economy strong and to enhance our quality of life.” –Allen Schaeffer, executive director, Diesel Technology Forum

This week at the Clean Diesel Technology Showcase held here in Washington D.C., Allen Schaeffer (seen below), executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum (and the main sponsor-slash-organizer of the event) put together a nice little story illustrating how the diesel engine impacts daily life here in the U.S. – using a plain loaf of Wonderbread.

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Now, before we get started, for the most part I know I’m largely preaching to the choir here – most folks reading this are involved in some way with the transportation industry and understand in their bones how critical a role the diesel engine plays in everyday American life.

The problem is the diesel is taken completely for granted by almost everyone else in this great nation of ours – especially by our politicians. I can’t tell you the number of polemics I’ve seen over the years railing against “dirty” diesel power by people who obviously don’t have a clue how critical linchpin that same “dirty” engine is in their life – how everything from food distribution to trash pickup and mass transit would grind to a halt without the diesel.

That’s what I liked about Schaeffer’s story – it clearly reveals how tightly the diesel is woven into the fabric of American life. We talk a good game about “electrification” of transportation in this country and increasing the use of alternative fuels, but for now – and for the conceivable future – the diesel is the only engine that gets the job we need done across a vast slice of industries, from construction to farming, fire and rescue service, railroads, trucking, you name it. We’d literally be up the proverbial creek without the proverbial paddle if the diesel engine up and disappeared on us.

“Though these are vastly different applications of diesel engines, the diesel value proposition is the same: the unmatched combination of proven fuel-efficiency, power, performance, durability, reliability and versatility,” said Schaeffer. And this is where that loaf of Wonderbread comes into play.

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“If you’re still wondering about the connection between all these different kinds of technology and how it could possibly fit together, consider this loaf of bread,” Schaeffer said. “It started out as a grain of wheat – and that grain of wheat, of course, began as a seed. An Iowa farmer picked up a full pallet of seed bags in his GM Chevrolet Silverado heavy duty pick-up truck powered by a Duramax diesel engine. He then planted, cultivated and harvested the wheat from a field using his diesel-powered John Deere tractor.

When he harvested the wheat, he took it to the local farmers cooperative where it joined other grain headed for a mill downriver. That river barge got pushed by a marine work boat powered by a Caterpillar diesel marine engine. From the mill, the wheat got processed into flour and shipped in a freight train hopper car pulled by a diesel-powered locomotive to a bakery.

The bakery got the wheat and other ingredients that go into making bread – even the packaging for the finished loaves – delivered by the diesel-powered truck. Though a nasty thunderstorm knocked out the electrical power, the bakery fortunately had a back-up diesel generator in place to keep production and refrigeration equipment operating.

The finished loaf of bread then went by diesel-powered tractor-trailer to a regional distribution center 500 miles away. That truck made the trip in record time because of the new highway interchange construction project finished just in the course of the last week by a new Caterpillar D7E diesel-electric hybrid-drive bulldozer and other diesel-power equipment.

The loaf of bread arrived at the regional distribution center where it was then loaded on to another diesel-powered tractor trailer and taken another 150 miles of bread to its final destination – your neighborhood grocery store.

You, of course, began your day by watching a diesel-powered recycling truck on its morning route. At breakfast, you notice you’re down to your last slice of bread so you make a note to hit the grocery store today for a loaf of bread. You see your daughter off to school, climbing aboard a diesel-electric hybrid school bus and then jump in your new Volkswagen Jetta TDI diesel sedan and head off to work; noting the fuel economy meter in the dashboard is showing 41 mpg as you drive along the highway.

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Later you go out to lunch with a co-worker in her new Audi Q7 TDi diesel sedan and you both remark about the fuel economy and pick-up from both of your diesel-powered cars – and that neither of you ever imagined yourselves as driving a diesel, but you love how far you can go on a tank and how peppy it is and talk about trying biodiesel the next time you fill up.

After work, you’re headed to the grocery store for the loaf of bread, but get delayed by a traffic accident – one where diesel-powered emergency rescue vehicles and an ambulance are on the scene, ready to quickly transport the injured to a hospital. You make it to the grocery store, get that loaf of bread, and remember to pick up your son from the nearby city bus stop, as he rides a diesel-electric hybrid transit bus to his high school every day.

As you get home and start putting away the groceries, your daughter notices the loaf of Wonderbread and asks innocently: Where does bread come from?

So here’s our loaf of bread – and it’s an example of how diesel power is working for all of us today. From farm tractors, river barges, railroads, commercial trucks, power generation, construction equipment, fire and rescue services and public and school transportation, and now your own car, diesel power – and today, it’s clean diesel power – plays an important and ongoing role in many aspects of our lives.”

That's something worth remembering, even for those like me where the diesel is an ongoing part of daily discussion.

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