“The simplicity yet usefulness of this tool box is exactly the design I emulated for the whole truck,” Check says, taking the box from its well crafted spot in the back of the cube. “Everything you need is here, and it’s not too big so you can’t put 200 pounds in it unless you fill it with lead.”
Light-weight, durable and adjustable, the tool box fills whatever bill needs to be filled at the moment. And as Check relates, efficiently proceeding from job to job with exactly what’s needed in exactly the right place was exactly what he had in mind for the New England Alternative TruckWerks, the company he recently set up to manufacture his creation.
“We started out with some alternative ideas in designing this truck,” Check adds, explaining the name. (“TruckWerks” is Check’s homage to the German-style precision thinking that went into the venture.) “What I found available on the market just didn’t fit my needs.”
So he thought about structure. He thought about what normally breaks even in the best of circumstances. He thought about the 200 or so items that usually get stuffed in the aisle or wedged behind the door. But mostly he thought about the tech who might commander the truck down the road, but is often victimized by the typical chaotic manner items are “stored” in the back.
“I didn’t want a tech holding a Maglite between his teeth looking for a part,” Check says. That care for the tech is readily apparent upon walking into the cube. A translucent roof helps give the interior a nice, airy feel. Underfoot is a comfortably cushioned, skid-resistant material that covers the wide aisle.
After almost three years of “road testing” his own innovations directly through his contracting business, Check Plumbing & Heating in Bellingham, MA, Tom drove a total of 67 hours to a recent Contractors 2000 meeting in New Orleans where he officially unveiled his work to an enthusiastic response from his fellow C–2000 members. One member liked it so much he wanted Check to sell it to him on the spot.
“For the first time, the ideas I thought were good, I finally knew were good because others saw it and thought so too,” Check says. “That was way cool.”
He probably could have afforded to fly back home considering the price tag is just under $50,000. While he turned down that sale, however, Check definitely is taking orders from any contractor interested in a new ride.
Proud Heritage: “Super Truck II” isn’t Check’s moniker for his vehicle anymore than “Super Truck” was the label contracting legend George Brazil put on his vehicle design when we wrote about him in 1986. Both phrases are our inventions. But they are an effective way of linking the two vehicles since Check makes no bones about where he got his original inspiration.
“Without George’s legwork, my truck wouldn’t be a reality,” Check explains. “I’m 40 years old and I thank George for giving me the base I needed without having to spend 40 years just getting to that point. I studied George’s truck inside and out, and that provided me with 80 percent of what I needed. I also made a list of the 200 items that usually get stuffed in aisles or doorways, where your tools are more a hindrance to getting your job done. Things such as right-angle drills, expansion tanks or toilets. I figured that if I could figure out where to find a home of these items, I could find a home for everything else.”
No surprise then that Check dedicates his truck to Brazil (as well as that other patron saint of plumbing, Frank Blau).
There’s plenty to note about Check’s version of the Super Truck. We’ve already mentioned the translucent roof and flooring. But how about a 10–foot aluminum ramp underneath the truck? Or the sliding platform that makes it a snap to unload and load a heavy piece of drain-cleaning equipment. Well, in this case, a picture is worth a thousand words so that’s why we’ve chosen to adorn our article with plenty of snap shots.
And while these other items are nifty improvements, when everything’s said and done, a truck is ultimately a rolling warehouse. And it’s the improvements Check made to the warehouse function that we think is the real revolutionary step.
“My theory is, everything in its place!” Brazil told us when we put his Super Truck on the cover of our June 1986 issue.
Check takes that theory to its next step: Everything in its place ... just make that “place” as adaptable as possible.
“This truck solves the space storage needs of our industry by maximizing that space — but not in a fixed format,” Check explains. “Modifications to a plumber’s truck are traumatic when they happen; God forbid a contractor takes his truck off the road for anything more than the time between driving to calls! Typically, making changes was so traumatic in this business, that it never happened.”
Instead of the bolted and welded configurations of Brazil’s truck, Check can change his shelving dimensions in less than a couple of minutes. Depending on what the needs are, that bin can be sized big enough to hold a toilet tank or small enough to store 1/2-inch copper tees.
Check can do this since the bins, able to hold up to 60 pounds, all roll in and out easily thanks to sliding tracks. Easily adjusting each track (see photos) makes it a snap to reconfigure the number of bins. The truck we saw contained 90 bins, but a truck can have as many as 160 bins.
What’s more, the configurations of each bin can be changed in a manner of seconds thanks to a series of slots every half-inch.
“Essentially we’ve taken a three-dimensional space and are able to subdivide that space in half-inch increments,” Check says. “That’s the first time that’s been done.”
The bins rest in “modules,” measuring 70 inches high by 22 inches for both width and depth. The modules themselves can also be removed to make room for, say, a water heater. Or two or three. That’s the beauty of Check’s design. The truck we viewed, for example, had six modules on the right-side and five on the left-hand side. In place of a sixth module on the left stood a handy sliding platform for drain-cleaning equipment.
“Trucks on the market today tend to be trade specific,” Check explains. “They fit a particular footprint and that’s that. Well, there’s no way a contractor is going to be able to afford one truck for plumbing, another for drain cleaning, and so on. My truck, on the other hand can be completely retrofitted in 20 minutes.”
The Need To Modify: Check knows firsthand that the need to modify is inherent to the plumbing contracting business itself. When Check opened up his contracting business seven years ago, he did just plumbing. But plumbing led to heating, which led to oil service, which led back to drain cleaning and water filtration.
“George’s design works great if you know today what you’re going to need tomorrow,” Check says. “If you know you’re always going to use a particular line of drain cleaning equipment, fine. But let’s say for whatever reason you change lines. Well, is that new piece of equipment going to fit in your truck properly? And the need to modify your truck may not be for a reason you make. Manufacturers change the size of their boxes all the time. Again, after these changes are made, what does your truck look like? Is it neat and clean looking? Or are things stuffed in the aisles or crammed into bins that are too small?”
In the end, Check believes the efficiency of his truck design will help other contractors like himself to run their operations as efficiently as possible. “Raise your prices first and foremost,” Check explains. “But sooner or later the market is going to tell you that your prices are high as they’re going to go.”
At that point the only way you’ll make as much profit as possible is to keep your overhead in control. “I know this truck will help techs make better use of their time since there won’t be as much scrambling around for parts,” Check says.