Todd Schuur, owner of Silverback Pilot Cars of Montezuma, is shown with one of his vehicles he uses to pilot wide loads. Schuur got into the pilot car business six years ago and today, he has a fleet of 30 pilot cars safely guiding heavy equipment, windmill components, control buildings and other wide loads across the United States. “I get to see a lot of the country from behind the windshield,” he said of his job.
by J.O. Parker
Doing his part to keep drivers safe around wide loads on the Interstates and highways is a job that Todd Schuur takes to heart.
Schuur, who resides in Brooklyn, is owner and operator of Silverback Pilot Cars, a Montezuma-based business that brokers pilot car services with trucking companies across the lower 48 states.
Schuur started in the pilot car business six years ago this past summer. He was the assistant manager of the repair shop at the TA Truckstop near Brooklyn at the time and said he started noticing all the pilot cars coming in and out of the truck stop.
“I started talking to them,” he said. “It peaked my interest. I thought it would be something I would enjoy.”
Schuur left his job at TA and hit the road in his Ford F150 crew cab, eating and sleeping in the vehicle, as he piloted oversized loads around the country.
“I basically lived on the road,” he said. “I would be gone for several days to three weeks when I first started.”
Schuur said through the years he typically drives the rear pilot car.
“Part of my job is to block the traffic so the truck driver can move the load from lane to lane and around corners,” said Schuur.
He said the lead pilot car is about one-half to one mile in front of the load. His job is to measure any overhead obstructions, bridges, powerlines and trees.
“He (the lead pilot car) can see any danger to the load and can warn us,” said Schuur.
The rear driver is there to warm the public coming from behind.
“He’s the eyes of the truck driver as he can’t see behind the load if there is a semi, motorcycle or car.” he said. “The rear pilot driver lets the truck driver know of any other vehicles.”
Schuur said he has had a lot of close calls through the years, but only one accident while moving a wide load through the St. Louis area.
“We (the wide load) was turning a corner and I was blocking the intersection,” recalled Schuur of the accident. “I turned my van sideways and another driver tried to go around me and make the turn. They hit the side of my van.”
Schuur said the driver got out of vehicle and started yelling and screaming at him, blaming him for the accident.
“People don’t realize that I am there to keep them safe,” said Schuur. “If I don’t see the “expletive” sign at least once a day, I’m not doing my job right.”
The wide loads he pilots consist of wind tower components, control buildings and heavy equipment such as bulldozers and cranes. The heaviest load he piloted was a 280,000 pound control building for the solar field, which was being moved from Florida to Wisconsin. Another big load he was involved with was moving a control building from the Port of Houston (Texas) to Wisconsin.
“We had six pilot cars and four state troopers escort us through Houston,” he said.
The longest load he has piloted was a 168-foot windmill blade.
In July, Schuur experienced a non-work related injury and has had to take a back seat to life on the road.
He had been operating the business under the name, Schuur Pilot Cars, up to that time, but has since joined forces with Niel Jenkins, owner of Niel’s Pilot Cars based in Minneapolis, Minn. Most recently he has taken over the business at which time he changed the name to Silverback Pilot Cars, which is named after the Silverback Gorilla.
With the growing company, Schuur spends more time these days handling the paperwork end of the business and keeping his pilot car drivers busy. He is currently overseeing about 30 pilot cars.
On occasion, he does hit the road in what he calls a “local run,” which could be piloting a wide load from Iowa to Arkansas or a surrounding state.
He also thinks teaching young people about the dangers of the road and what he does as a pilot car driver should be part of the drivers’ education program.
“I would be glad to share the horror stories of what goes on out on the road,” he said.
On a more positive note, Schuur said being a pilot car driver has given him the opportunity to see a lot of the country and meet people from different cultures and lifestyles.
“I get to see a lot of the country from behind the windshield,” he said of the job.