Floyd Vincent and Mary Falvo working as pilot car drivers 2008.07.23

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

Floyd Vincent seems an unlikely choice for a pilot car driver. He readily admits to something that just doesn’t fit.

“I don’t really like to drive,” said the rural Wauseon resident. “I just don’t enjoy it.”

But it brings in some extra cash and there are certainly worse ways to make money. Besides that, the view is constantly changing.

“It’s nice to see different sights,” Floyd said, and that’s something a pilot car driver is always experiencing.

They’re the people with the “Wide Load” signs driving ahead of and behind a semi-truck carrying a manufactured home or an enormous culvert or any of a myriad of large items along the highway.vincent.pilot_car.jpg

Hauling manufactured homes is where Floyd got his start in the business. He accompanied homes delivered by Continental Estates of Wauseon.

After a couple of years, he went out on his own, forming his own service under the name Penny’s Pilot Car, operated by Floyd’s wife, Connie.

It’s more of a family affair than that. Floyd’s daughter, Mary Falvo, is also in the business.

For Floyd, it’s a part-time endeavor. After all, he has to be back to the pulpit every Sunday at the East Chesterfield Church and the Winameg Christian Church.

Mary, on the other hand, is trying to make it into a full-time job. She approached the job as a part-time endeavor a year ago, but now she’s on the road a lot.

Getting started

To become a pilot car driver, the most important piece of equipment is a dependable vehicle. In addition, a car must carry signs, flags and cones to use in the case of a breakdown; a safety vest and hard hat for the driver; a fire extinguisher; and communication equipment such as a CB radio and cell phone. A light bar for the top of the car is also an essential investment for drivers.

Training can come through books and classroom time, but an excellent introduction comes from traveling with another driver.

“The best thing is if you know someone in the business,” Floyd said.

“Sometimes they’ll let you travel with them to see if you really like it,” Mary added.

Certification courses are required for some states, notably Utah which has the toughest regulations.

“If you’re good for Utah, you’re good for any state,” Mary said. “They have the most restrictions.”

Every state is different, Floyd noted. He picked up a load at the Blue Water Bridge in Michigan and accompanied the truck to the Indiana state line. He was done at that point because that particular load didn’t need an escort in Indiana.

Too wide, too long, too tall—the definition of oversize varies all across the country. Some loads require one escort, others need two.

Some drivers provide “high pole” service—a pole mounted on the vehicle that detects wires or a bridge that are too low for the load.

On the road

Once on the road, the pilot car driver provides two services: warning other drivers about the oversize load; warning the driver of the truck about obstacles ahead.

The job entails a lot more than just sitting back and driving.

“There’s continuous contact between the driver and the escort by CB,” Mary said. “Your main job is to keep the motoring public safe and the load and its driver safe.”

Narrow bridges, pedestrians, bicyclists, buggies in Amish country—a truck driver needs to be aware of any impending difficulty.

The lead driver also needs to pay attention to road signs and make sure the travelers stay on their route.

“We’re there to watch out for all those things,” Floyd said, emphasizing the responsibilities of the job.

If a breakdown occurs, the pilot car driver takes on a new role—but once again, that depends on where the breakdown occurs. In some states, pilots are out directing traffic; in other states, they’re not allowed to.

Floyd limits his travel due to his duties as a pastor. He’s visited 10 states, but never travels too far away. The day his trip ended at the Indiana border, he immediately picked up another job by driving north to Ludington.

Mary, with more time and fewer commitments, is willing to travel most anywhere. She was out in Arizona when she landed another trip back east to Kentucky. Floyd once found the perfect situation. He was far from home when he was assigned to a load heading to Wauseon.

When a trip ends, a pilot can wait around in hopes of getting another job—by keeping in touch with a broker—or give up and head back home alone, an act known as deadheading.

Sometimes Floyd’s wife goes along on the job and then he’s more willing to wait a night or two in hopes of something else.

“Sometimes you think it’s a day run,” Mary said, “and then you get another job. You never know how long it’s going to be.”

That’s all right with her.

“I like to travel and I like to drive,” she said. “If you work really hard one week, you can take a couple of days off.”

She has a flexible schedule and she can turn down a job if she wants.

In recent weeks, Floyd and Mary haven’t had quite as much choice. Higher fuel prices combined with a slow economy have reduced truck traffic.

They remain ready to leave at a moment’s notice whenever a call comes in. The car is always gassed up and Floyd has a duffel bag packed in his car.

Mobile homes, bridge beams, bases for wind turbines, factory equipment, giant farm equipment, steel beams—whatever it might be, Floyd and Mary are ready to serve as guides on the journey.

  • Front.nok Hok
    GAMES DAY—Finn Molitierno (right) celebrates a goal during a game of Nok Hockey with his sister, Kyla. The two tried out a variety of games Saturday at Stair District Library’s annual International Games Day event. One of the activities featured a sort of scavenger hunt in which participants had to locate facts presented in the Smithsonian Hometown Teams exhibit. The traveling show left Morenci’s library Tuesday, wrapping up a series of programs that began Oct. 2. Additional photos are on page 7.
  • Station.2
    STRANGE STUFF—Morenci Elementary School students learn that blue isn’t really blue when seen through the right color of lens. Volunteer April Pike presents the lesson to students at one of the many stations brought to the school by the COSI science center. The theme of this year’s visit was the solar system.
  • Front.leaves
    MAPLE leaves show their fall colors in a puddle at Morenci’s Riverside Natural Area. “This was a great year for colors,” said local weather watcher George Isobar. Chilly mornings will give way to seasonable fall temperatures for the next two weeks.
  • Front.band
    MORENCI Marching Band member Brittany Dennis keeps the beat Friday during the half-time show of the Morenci/Pittsford football game. Color guard member Jordan Cordts is at the left. The band performed this season under the direction of Doyle Rodenbeck who served as Morenci’s band director in the 1970s. He’s serving as a substitute during a family leave.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.

Weekly newspaper serving SE Michigan and NW Ohio - State Line Observer ©2006-2016