Meet a hands-on guy who wasn’t content to take care of just his own fleet. His contributions to other fleets’ welfare and to the industry as a whole are well documented. Maybe he’s even helped your fleet. Read on to see why Oren Summer is both a champion and this year’s Career Leadership Award recipient.
“I’ve always been interested in mechanical things,” says Oren Summer, who, as a teen, declined involvement in his family’s construction business in favor of his fascination with motor vehicles. He played some football and baseball as a youth, but he “preferred laying down rubber in front of the high school.”
While his mission is more sophisticated today, he freely admits to still being a motorhead – and he has no regrets about where that road has taken him.
In his early years, Summer’s vehicle of choice would have been a ’62 Chevy Impala SS, with the rare, factory, 425-hp, 409 engine. Alas, his first car was a ’58 Volkswagen Beetle convertible, complete with a malady commonly associated with air-cooled engines – no heat. No question, keeping that Bug on the road put his technical skills at the top of his playlist.
Summer’s mechanical inclinations finally found a financially gainful home in 1969 – the same year he graduated from college – when he started working at Carolina Freight Carriers in his hometown of Cherryville, N.C. That was also the year – “in fact, the same month” – that he and his sweetheart, Guy Ann, were married.
Working through the ranks at Carolina, from shop mechanic to various maintenance management positions, Summer had become director of maintenance by the early ’80s and served in that position for 13 years with responsibility for more than 15,000 pieces of equipment, 42 shops and more than 450 mechanics. “Those were fun years,” he says. “We solved a lot of problems.”
In good company
In 1985, Summer’s longtime friend and, at the time, boss, Hugh Watts – who was CCJ’s 1988 Career Leadership Award recipient – persuaded him to join the Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC). Watts knew that maintenance managers who share information and experience with their peers are more effective at their jobs.
“Being around such knowledgeable people was a little intimidating at first,” Summer says. “I remember my first presentation there. I was holed up in my hotel room for a couple of days rehearsing and fine-tuning what I’d say.”
Soon enough, he’d gained the respect of the TMC community, and wound up chairing several task forces and Study Groups, dealing with many of the same challenges he was seeing at Carolina – such as radiator solder bloom and silicate dropout, short-lived incandescent headlights and other electrical woes.
In fact, Summer was a pioneer in solving a problem his fleet and many others were experiencing at the time: Oil leaking from wheel seals was a nuisance that was contaminating brakes, threatening bearing life and degrading safety.
“Wheel seal maintenance costs at Carolina were $0.105 per 100 miles for linehaul tractors, and $0.12 per 100 miles for trailers and dollies,” he remembers. “This was two times our cost of clutch replacements, two-and-a-half times transmission repair costs, two times electrical charging system repairs, and two times starting system repair costs.”
Summer figured he might be able to attack the problem with a lubricant that wasn’t an oil or a grease, but something in between, so it wouldn’t leak past a damaged or improperly installed seal. “We called our lubricant supplier, who steered us toward a semifluid, synthetic grease that had the properties we were looking for,” he recalls.
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