The Jumbo Jet Truck came about as a solution for my need to transport both the WooFPAK and an ever-growing quantity of equipment. Although an adequate and safe method of animal transport is to use kennels or crates, I prefer to let my canine crew ride as regular passengers in my vehicles whenever possible. Safety is my number one concern, of course, but that does not preclude making the dogs comfortable during long journeys. To ensure the WooFPAK’s safety and comfort, I take into account each dog’s unique personality and needs. One might be nervous or over-anxious, while another might not get along with certain other members of the pack. I know who rides best with who, and where they should be placed.
A large vehicle is needed for the task of accommodating the crew’s safety and comfort. Many doors are required for loading and unloading the dogs while avoiding cumbersome run-ins, tangles, and snarls. I typed ‘six door truck’ in my trusty search engine, but almost everything that came up was custom-made. No factory builds were available. My quest was unequivocally leading me to a custom-made vehicle. I eventually found a shop with lots of bad-ass, manly options to choose from. From six door pickups to excursion trucks, this mother of all man-caves had it all. The shop owner would cut a vehicle in half, take another set of doors from another vehicle, and integrate them together seamlessly in one vehicle. He seemed knowledgeable and well qualified for the task, with an extensive catalog of successfully altered trucks shipped to destinations around the world. What clinched the deal is that he almost seemed to have anticipated my visit. I have a need for speed, and he had a modified truck ready and waiting for me to buy then and there! Low and behold, that’s our Jumbo Jet Truck.
The vehicle was available because it was gas-powered, and most people at the time were looking for diesel. I was fine with gas power because of the quiet ride it would provide on long trips. Less noise meansa more comfortable trip for the dogs. Gas mileage wouldn’t be as efficient, but this truck was not intended to be my main mode of transportation. With only occasionally use, the additional cost of gas would not be a burden.
I received the truck and it was everything I’d hoped it would be… but it would need to be WooFDriverized, or given my personal flare, in many ways. The truck was very tall, so my first challenge was finding a way to comfortably load and unload one of my older dogs, who wasn’t able to jump that kind of height. At first, I looked into lowering the truck, but that turned out to be impractical. I then ventured down the road of custom risers, where I could lower and lift as needed.
With a little more research, I found electric-powered RV steps. With some custom fabrication from an elite welder, as these steps were originally made for a very different vehicle, we were able to mount them under the trucks step bar. They come out and reset as the rear doors are opened. The steps are virtually hidden when not in use, but are invaluable in assisting my older dog to continue to join the team on adventures, not to mention helpful in aiding the whole WooFPAK after a long day’s journey. Sometimes a fun day of outdoor rough housing means tired paws for everyone by the time we head home, and the steps allow easy access to the vehicle.
As we continued the modification process, we built-in a variety of features for both safety and comfort. We added a safety partition to divide the rows in back, so the dogs would have their own personal space. We outfitted each canine seating area with no spill water bowls, so water would be readily available on longer trips. As an additional navigational tool, we mounted an air-horn, fed by our on-board air compressor, to provide a warning to others when we’re backing up through a narrow patch or traversing an area with low visibility. Our on-board air compressor can also be used to re-inflate tires when necessary, for either the truck itself or any bikes we might have on board.
Next, we WooFDriverized the cockpit area. For this, we sent the Jumbo Jet Truck off to the stereo electronics store for a cozy thirty-day stay. The first order of business, from a technical standpoint, was to update the 2005 truck with modern-day navigation and a whole new entertainment system. To make long journeys more comfortable for my better half and my extended family, we incorporated DVD players facing the rear seats. The real technological challenge to all of these upgrades was my desire to add an on-board mac mini computer. After much planning, we installed an extra in-dash screen so some computer functionality would be available on board. We regularly make use of this feature to research trails and find movies. We even run a screen saver program merging together pictures of our previous dog journeys so we can enjoy and relive them on the way to making new memories. Outside the truck, we incorporated four marine grade turbine style speakers to complete the Jumbo Jet’s entertainment capabilities. The speakers are to provide music for the pit crew and any spectators that might be watching the show as we load and unload for our events.
As modifications continued, we wanted to install cameras to make this beast easier to drive and navigate. I have a class A tractor/trailer license and can maneuver larger vehicles with ease, but I still prefer cameras and screens around the Jumbo Jet Truck as an added safety measure. This feature would also make it easy for other crew members to drive more confidently. We installed cornering lights, mimicking some of the older truck models previously in production. Our LED cornering lights illuminate the sides of the vehicle whenever the blinker is engaged, so we can see where we’re turning. We installed a camera directly facing the dogs, which enables us to continually monitor their safety. In a vehicle this large, it’s helpful to take a look at the screen to know what’s going on at a glance. With the mac mini and the cameras, we were up to two monitors… but soon we found the truck was able to accommodate a third screen. The rear-view mirror has a built in LCD screen, which gives the option of seeing a regular reflection, or seeing the screen’s out-put as needed.
These multiple video and audio options require intelligent screen management, which mean switches and dials to control the view and determine which screen is in use and where. To run all this technology, we were requiring more power than was originally available on-board the Ford Excursion truck. We added a high power alternator and a second truck battery to up the amperage and give us the juice we needed. This extra battery is conveniently wired into the truck itself to potentially function as a backup battery, in case the need arises for a spare. To manage the additional electronic load, we installed a digital volt meter on board to determine the battery conditions in real time, and a temperature gage to monitor the computer itself. The mac mini is in fact so minimal that it doesn’t come with computer fans or a substantive heat sink. Being mounted in a small space in-dash, it has little access to ventilation and its temperature needs to be carefully monitored.
We added another crucial electronic component, the ability to remotely start, lock, and monitor the vehicle. This was a two-way feedback system that could tell me if the vehicle was locked and running, and report its internal temperature. If the need arises, I can leave the dogs safely within the vehicle, always within my view, as I remotely monitor and track the vehicle’s conditions in real time. I can keep an air conditioner running, if needed, as well as reduce any distractions or irritants in the environment to ensure they have a calm, relaxing space at all times and that they won’t be distressed or distracted by any events occurring outside the car. Having access to the vehicle through the Viper System, which enables me to communicate remotely to on-board systems, I am notified immediately of any changes in engine use, doors opening and closing, and alarm status. The Viper Systems is compatible with a variety of smartphones and tablets, so I can control the vehicle’s basic functions (locking, unlocking, starting, shutting off) through most any device of my choosing. This is truly a vehicle ahead of its time.
Having added so many technological amenities to this vehicle and incorporated the second battery into its wiring, we were bound to run into some issues with the power distribution and prioritization. With the engine just idling, it doesn’t always provide enough power to run the air conditioner at full capacity. We were met with a challenging task: How can we run the AC at its optimal temperature when the motor is idling instead of driving? We enlisted the help of one of our top mechanics to figure this one out. He installed a switch that, like cruse control, would engage the engine and have it spin with a higher RPM while the truck is safely in park. This would make the air compressor perform at optimal level, which in turn would be able to provide optimal AC to both dogs and driver. Care must be given to not mistakenly engage this switch while driving, as it will cause the vehicle to surge forward. Again mimicking the processes of a standard cruise control system, breaks can be applied immediately to remedy that mistake.
Our next WooFDriverizing of this vehicle would be enabling it to handle all of our elaborate equipment. The greatest feature of this truck is its length, granting it the ability to handle our unique ten-foot-long bikes. We were able to custom fabricate an aluminum roof-top deck complete with tie-down attachments to hold the bikes in place… but we had to figure out how to get bikes up there first! With the truck’s big tires and tall stature, elevating anything up to the roof deck would require some kind of mechanized assistance. We designed removable custom ramps that would automate the process of wheeling bikes up to the roof deck with the assistance of a permanently installed winch in the deck. To ease the transition of the bikes from the main ramps to the roof, we incorporated mini ramps permanently mounted to the roof deck. Almost anything that we need can be smoothly transferred from ground to roof deck through this series of ramps. We ran into one small issue with our brilliant ramp system, however. Our trike has three wheels, so wheeling it up the two stage ramp was incompatibly awkward. We had to build another set of wheels to attach to the trike to get it on the main ramp properly.
The roof deck has been a great addition, but we sometimes have a need to carry two bikes. With the Jumbo Jet’s large size, the additional weight of another bike would be no problem if we could only find a way to secure it…. So we designed an incredible anomaly. We incorporated a hitch-mounted rack. It has ramps welded to it as well as its own winch to hoist one of our quad vehicles on it, which could then ride down the road in an upright position.
With the addition of these winches on the exterior of the truck, one mounted to the roof-deck and one included on the tall hitch-mounted platform, we needed to figure out how to get them the power they need. We hardwired 12-volt power receptacles to the rear of the vehicle to power the rear mast-mounted winch. Control receptacles for forward and reverse operations were mounted below the rear bumper as well.
To round out the functional requirements of this rig, we mounted four bright LED fog lights, which are able to light the sides of the vehicle and also able to rotate to shine upwards as we load the bikes on the roof deck. We regularly use these handy lights on midnight mushing runs and whenever we’re caught in the dark. We use rear fog-lights as reverse lights, to light the way and provide clear visibility for the rear-facing camera as we back the vehicle up.
To complete this work of art which we call the Jumbo Jet Truck, I have mounted Brockway hood ornaments and side paneling truck emblems. Brockway is an older big truck manufacturer which uses a husky sled dog as its emblem. With my love for big rigs mingled with my love of mushing, it’s only fitting to decorate the Jumbo Jet Truck with a husky!