SEATTLE, WA. A team of Eaton Corp’s Roadranger staff have been out on the road this spring, giving fleets in all kinds of operations the opportunity to try their new, automated UltraShift Plus transmission for themselves. Last week, it was destination northwest and Fleet Owner had the opportunity to ride along. (Read more Eaton news)

Eaton driver Bob Phelps, Dirk Sullivan, territory service manager for Roadranger; and Herb Morrison, Roadranger region service manager, brought an International tractor equipped with an UltraShift Plus transmission and pulling a loaded 53-foot trailer right to customers’ yards. At Stoneway Concrete/Gary Merlino Construction in Renton, WA, retired Stoneway driver Frank Savidge did the test driving for the company.

Gary Merlino began Merlino construction in 1961 with just a wheelbarrow and a few hand tools. His brother, Don, joined him in 1966 to form a partnership. They acquired Stoneway Concrete in 1985. Today, both companies are actively involved in municipal street paving and large commercial building projects in the Seattle area.

For Savidge, the new transmission’s ability to operate in a “creep mode” was one of its best features. “Low speed maneuvers are really important in the concrete business,” he said. “The load in a mixer is top heavy, and the drums are constantly turning. It is easy to roll over if the cement is at the top of the drum just as you turn a corner. That low range would be a big help in heavy traffic, too.”

Although most of his driving was regional rather than long-haul, Savidge also said he liked the ease of shifting and the resulting smooth ride. “No wonder some folks like driving cross-country,” he noted. “If it was like this, I would, too.”

At family-owned Oak Harbor Freight Lines in Auburn, WA, brothers Dan and Mark Vander Pol greeted the Eaton team. Dan is director of maintenance for the company and Mark works as a technician in the shop. Both have logged time in a variety of jobs at the fleet, including driving.

The company began in 1916. The Vander Pol’s 93-year-old grandfather, who still drops by the office every day, acquired it in 1938. Today Oak Harbor serves WA, OR, ID, CA and NV with a fleet of some 500 trucks out of numerous terminal locations in the region.

Mark Vander Pol volunteered to handle the test driving, and he headed straight for a hill behind the terminal that is so steep company drivers are required to go around it today. It was the perfect place to give the transmission’s hill start aid a real test. The system is designed to prevent roll-back or roll-forward while launching on grades of 3% or greater.

From the beginning of the climb, Mark Vander Pol liked the smooth downshifting, and the delay on the release of the service brakes at a stop was also a big plus, he noted. “We’ve had to rescue drivers stuck on this hill in the past,” he recalled.

The new family of Eaton transmissions features new automated clutch technology and “intelligent shift selection” software that employs grade sensing, weight computation and driver throttle commands to make shift decisions intended to be safe and efficient. Six different transmission platforms are a part of the new UltraShift Plus family, and each one is custom designed to suit a particular type of trucking application, including linehaul, extreme performance, construction, multipurpose vocational and vocational extreme performance.

Research, development and testing of the UltraShift Plus has been going on for the past seven years, according to Eaton. More than 25 test fleets participated in the developmental effort before production transmissions were ready for other fleets like Oak Harbor and Stoneway to test for themselves.