'Pilot truck' hub and training center coming to midstate

Written by Brett Sholtis/York Daily Record | Aug 19, 2015 8:48 AM

Lenny Jameson, left, and Lori Smith, president of Lori's Pilot Cars Inc., place flags on a pilot truck in York. Smith and John Raffensberger, two Dover natives, have been running the business in Alabama, but are returning to York County to build a new headquarters. The trucks guide oversize loads on the road. (Paul Kuehnel -- York Daily Record/ Sunday News)

(Undated -- It's a pretty remarkable sight: you're driving down the highway, and you come up on trucks with lights flashing and "wide load" signs. Among the vehicles, a semi truck is hauling some gargantuan object, be it a house, a wind turbine blade or a piece of drilling equipment.

Those safety vehicles guarding the semi are called "pilot trucks," and they're part of a hauling process that is highly regulated by the state and federal government.

John Raffensberger and Lori Smith are in the pilot truck business, and now, they're moving the headquarters of their operation from Fairhope, Alabama to Dover Township.

Dover wasn't a completely random choice, though. Raffensberger and Smith grew up in Dover. They went to Dover Area High School together, graduating in 1979, and have been together as a couple for years.

"We do a lot of government work and Department of Defense, and work out of the Port of Baltimore, Newark (New Jersey) and New York," he said. "It's a good location with the turnpike and (Interstate) 83."

Now, he said, the team is buying a more than 20-acre Dover Township property, which will become the company's new headquarters.

Because they're still closing the sale, Raffensberger declined to give the exact location of the property. He said the plan is to build an 8,500 square-foot facility there. The building will include 12 bays for maintenance and a 2,400 square-foot office.

Raffensberger said the impetus for the new location is that they're more than quadrupling the size of their fleet.

"We have a fairly large contract coming up shortly," he said, though he declined to name the customer.

The contract also means the company is hiring. Raffensberger expected the workforce to jump from a current staff of five to about 50 people.

They'll be hiring mechanics, cleanup people, dispatchers and coordinators, but most of those employees will be drivers.

They need lots of drivers, Raffensberger said, because any one delivery could involve as many as nine pilot cars.

That fleet typically includes a lead vehicles, which radios potential hazards back to the team, a chase vehicle that warns oncoming motorists, and sometimes a "steer truck," which is equipped with a joystick that remotely manipulates the back wheels on the delivery truck.

There's even a "pole truck," equipped with a fiberglass measuring pole that makes sure the delivery driver doesn't end up, for example, blowing the roof off of a house by driving it into a bridge that was lower than expected.

That fiberglass pole sees more action than people may suspect, Raffensberger said. He said that, a week ago, a team delivering a natural gas vaporizer from Pennsylvania to New Jersey had to shut down highway traffic and reroute after the pole truck determined that a bridge was too low to drive under.

Raffensberger said pilot truck drivers can expect to earn a wage comparable with or higher than a CDL truck driver -- between $75,000 and $100,000 a year -- though the work involves long hours and nights away from home. Because pilot drivers need both a CDL and a pilot driver certification, he's also setting up an on-site training and licensing center.

"If you like to travel, and you want to see the country on someone else's dime, this is a good way to do it and make a good living at the same time," he said.

This article comes to us through a partnership between the York Daily Record and WITF.

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