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Blame Clessie’s make: Jake brakes take cake

La Plata County commissioners voted unanimously in 2021 to pass an ordinance that prohibits the use of “jake brakes,” which are loud and can disrupt residential life. (Adobe Stock)

Dear Action Line: We live close to the intersection of U.S. Highway 550 and Trimble Lane, where there is a traffic light. The residents in that area are subjected to frequent day and night “jake braking” by drivers of semis and gravel trucks. Multiple calls to the Colorado Department of Transportation have resulted only in my being told that signs meeting state requirements are posted there and the only thing a citizen can do is call the State Patrol (the offending truck being long gone!). Do you know of any recourse? – Suzanne Parker

Dear Suzanne: The best thing to do when you think you hear a jake brake is to bolt out of bed, throw on a long jacket if you have time, and run after the truck. When it stops, talk to the driver and ask him/her to please not jake brake in your neighborhood.

The phrase that seems to work best, made famous by the great movie “Network” a few years back, is: “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore.” That movie didn’t exactly have an uplifting ending – no, not at all – but the message is a strong one.

So I know what you’re thinking: “I’m not fast enough to sprint and catch a speeding truck on a highway.” That may be true. So you might need to take an extra moment to grab your bicycle off the porch and go full-on Sepp Kuss after the offending truck.

Before giving you the disappointing answer to come, let’s talk about jake braking. Who is Jake? Did he lose his hearing after inventing this extremely loud braking system? Or maybe before, which would explain a lot?

The Jacobs engine brake, common on large diesel trucks, uses compressed air from the engine cylinders. That air (gas) is siphoned off via the exhaust valves and used to absorb the engine power and slow the vehicle. Without getting too technical, and we’ve already exhausted Action Line’s understanding of the subject, this system is a way of avoiding wearing out the regular brakes and pads on the truck.

Clessie Cummins invented these brakes in the 1950s, and they were first manufactured by Jacobs Vehicle Systems. So they became Jacobs brakes, shortened to Jake brakes. If you’re a trucker you like them because they keep your normal brakes from melting and disintegrating on long downhills such as we have around these parts. And that keeps you alive. So in that respect, you have to respect the Jake.

Some municipalities have laws against them. But Action Line’s research shows they are legal in most places as long as there is a muffler attached to them.

Two years ago, in January 2021, La Plata County passed Ordinance 2021-01 “requiring use of engine brake mufflers within the county and enforcement.” One of the reasons for this ordinance was complaints by people near Highway 550 north of Hermosa (which is close to Trimble Lane), and along U.S. Highway 160 in Grandview.

As Action Line understands it, the county’s ordinance basically states that both the federal and state governments say that vehicles must have working mufflers on engine brake devices, and so we La Plata Countians are going to say that too. It also says that CDOT is willing to post “Engine Brake Muffler Required” signs, and that “the ordinance may be enforced by a law enforcement officer.”

The fine for a first offense is a minimum of $50 and maximum of $1,000. Action Line did not go checking, but is told that CDOT has placed the suggested signs.

As one might expect, this ordinance is not easy to enforce. It would probably take a specific complaint, and a technician with a decibel measuring device in the right place at the right time. Noise ordinances are inherently difficult for law officers to deal with. Loud motorcycles offer a similar dilemma. And this probably explains why the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office did not return phone calls and an email from Action Line inquiring about how and when this ordinance 2021-01 is enforced locally.

“From our house on the west side of Trimble Crossing, my husband and I can’t see whether or not the offenders have mufflers,” Parker said. “We just hear very loud multiple popping noises as the trucks approach the Trimble Lane light from the north.”

Parker said she called the Sheriff’s Office about the possibility of an increased presence in the area but got a “lukewarm response.”

Every year brings more traffic to the Durango/La Plata County area, and thus more noise from vehicles. Truckers heroically keep goods coming and packages arriving despite the often inclement weather and dangerous driving conditions in Southwest Colorado. And despite the fact that people don’t really need nine-tenths of what truckers deliver. (Not the truckers’ fault.)

So a big shout-out to the brave truckers who work long hours with nary a thanks. But if you could also see fit to be as quiet as possible with your brakes (safely), we would all appreciate it. And then we won’t have to chase you down on our bicycles.

Email questions and suggestions to actionline@durangoherald.com or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301. In the last 140 years, 140 babies have been named Clessie in the U.S. Using advanced Action Line math, that’s pretty close to one a year.