The Mechanical Side Of Things
If you’ve been following along with Clean Water for Haiti for any length of time, you’ve probably heard or seen us refer to the need for a new truck. Our trucks work hard every day, to the extent that it can be difficult to explain what that looks like.
This post isn’t going to be an appeal for a new truck. I’ve already done that and we’re on our way to the halfway point of having the funds to purchase one. We’re hoping to do that sometime this year, and crossing our fingers that we don’t have any issues before then that would mean a lot of down time and people not getting filters.
No, today I’m not going to talk about that. Instead, I’m going to try and give you a little window into how hard these beasts work, and what goes into maintaining them.
Yesterday Richard, one of our drivers, went out to buy a load of cinder blocks for the walls in the new guest house/training center. Most of the drive was on the highway, with the exception of the few minutes on our road getting out to the highway, and going from the highway up to the block yard – about 5 minutes on a gravel road.
Mid-way through the morning I got a call to say that he had a flat tire and he was going to be late coming back because of having to change over to the spare, etc. Typically, if we get a flat and time allows, we go right to the next tire repair boss, a guy on the side of the road with an air compressor and a small fire in a piston that he uses to heat patches on the tire tubes. It’s really fascinating to watch them do the whole thing by hand.
Because of the nature of what we do and the roads we have to drive on, we always make sure that every vehicle has a full size, good condition spare on it so we can swap it out and keep going, then get the flat fixed as soon as possible. Very rarely do we let a vehicle off site without a good spare that’s ready to go. Sometimes, but rarely, a spare has lost air from sitting so long, but that’s usually easily remedied.
Richard eventually got back and everyone went about their day as usual.
This morning Chris asked me if I knew that Richard had a blow out yesterday. I told him I was just told the tire was “ampan”, which means “broken down” or not working or flat. Creole has a variety of meanings for a single word, so you just sort of pick the best one for the context. The other day the car overheated and while I waited for it to cool down so I could put more coolant in it many people came by asking me if the car was “ampan”.
When Chris said “blow out” i just thought that a part of the tire had, you know, blown out. And then the whole thing had gone flat, the spare had to be put on, etc.
Well, I was wrong…
When Preval, another of our staff, went to put it in the car this morning so Chris could have it taken off the rim, and get another spare mounted on it, this is what he was moving:
Yep, a complete blow out.
Many times we like to talk about businesses, and how there’s a “cost to doing business”. Very rarely do we apply that to the non-profit setting. But, whether we apply it or not, it is there. When we have to do the math to figure out what our cost per filter is, one of the things we have to factor into that is maintenance on our work trucks. They’re a vital part to our program. We can’t deliver or do repair visits on filters without them, and each full load of filters we take out is about 5 tonnes of weight. Many of the roads that take our staff into the communities we serve are nothing more than a dirt track. Sometimes they’re crossing rivers. Sometimes they get stuck up to the axels in mud, and have to unload everything to get unstuck, then reload it again.
When we talk about “the cost of doing” business in relation to our trucks, one of those maintenance items/expenses is tires. I had a car when I lived back in Canada before moving to Haiti and I cringed when I had to replace tires. My dad is a truck driver, and when he owned his own trucks, I remember many an hour passed in the waiting area of the tire shop while things got changed out. When it comes time to change out a set of tires on one of the trucks we’re always aware of the expense, but it doesn’t ever make the sticker shock any less.
You see, each of our work trucks has 6 wheels. And we need to put good quality, beefy treaded tires on them to get where we need to go. All in, when it’s time to replace the tires we have to buy at least 6 new ones, usually at the tune of about $1600 US. If we need to replace a spare, that’s one more tire. Typically we’ll take one of the best condition old tires and use it as a spare, and probably keep a few of the others for that purpose if we can.
I share this just as a way of expanding your view of what’s involved in what we do here. We often say “it’s not just about filters” because there are so many things that need to work together to make the filters possible. When we do fundraising, and you hear us talking about “cost per filter” now you know more of what’s involved in getting to that number, and some of the things we have to stay on top of doing this thing we do.