Safety takes center stage in Illinois-based event-production company’s touring division

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Upstaging Inc Truck
Upstaging maintains a “clean and lean” profile for the entire fleet. A “less is more” philosophy allows a bold image with little fanfare. (Courtesy: Upstaging Inc.)

The story of Upstaging Inc. is one of constant evolution and growth. Founded 48 years ago as a stage lighting company, Upstaging has expanded to provide event production and management, custom displays and scenic work, signing and graphics, and — with a fleet of 175 drivers, 200 tractors and 400 trailers — trucking.

“There are now two sides to our fleet’s business: touring and logistics,” explained Chip Warterfield, fleet safety manager.

“Our touring division carries production equipment for most major concert tours from the southern U.S. border to the 60th parallel north — lights, sound, video, guitars, you name it. Look out back of any big event, and you’ll probably see our trucks,” he said. “The logistics side is currently working Freight All Kinds (FAK) hauling in the lower 48 states, moving everything from groceries to tractors.”

No matter where the road takes Upstaging’s drivers, Warterfield said, the company does everything possible to provide the men and women behind the wheel with a safe vehicle. That means running Peterbilt Model 579s, which make up 99% of the company’s fleet, with Bendix ADB22X air disc brakes on all axles, and the Bendix ESP Electronic Stability Program full-stability system as standard equipment.

“We purchase trucks through our fleet rep at Peterbilt, and I trust them to provide me with the best,” Warterfield said. “When the decision to step up to ADBs on all axles came around, I was plenty confident from our experience with the steer axle ADBs that we have been running for years. With the exceptional performance that we have seen, there will be no need for me to look anywhere else.”

Based in Sycamore, Illinois, Upstaging has six yards in the U.S. and employs about 200 people, with the lighting department adding as many as 200 additional employees in peak times. Safety is always paramount, Warterfield noted.

“It’s a mindset,” he said. “From Day 1, we define safety — it’s risk avoidance, plain and simple — and I’ll tell people, ‘Remember that, because I’ll call you up and ask it.’ We try to reinforce it all the time to keep people thinking about it in a positive sense. Like a math number line, ‘risk’ is over there in the negative, and ‘safety’ is over here in the positive.”

In pursuing safety on the road, Upstaging is selective in its hiring, seeking those with excellent driving records and the ability to showcase their professional best every day. The company also provides safety training and driver-improvement programs designed to keep the focus on safe vehicle operation.

Warterfield has been in Upstaging’s safety department for four years, but he’s been in the entertainment-transportation trade since 1981 — and he still holds a commercial driver’s license (CDL) and pulls the occasional load.

“I know what goes on out there, and I know what our drivers are facing every day, and what it takes to keep them happy, so I do a lot of test drives myself when it comes to choosing new equipment,” he explained.

Bendix ESP and ADB22X air disc brakes on the steer axle have come standard on the Peterbilt 579 since the truck’s launch in 2012. The ADB22X achieved standard position on all axles on the vehicle in 2017. According to Bendix, the brakes provide shorter stopping distances and deliver greater reliability with more consistent stops, while also delivering ROI in the shop through longer friction life and quicker pad changes than drum brakes. The ADB22X also has an internal self-adjustment mechanism as opposed to an external slack adjuster.

“When I started getting driver feedback on how amazing the Bendix air disc brakes were performing, that’s how you know you’ve hit a home run — and it’s tangible evidence that the drivers really understand how committed we are to safety and safer technologies,” Warterfield said. “Plus, we train our drivers on what to look for when brakes may need maintenance, and the discs make it one step easier, because I’m confident they’re always in adjustment.”

According to Warterfield, Upstaging’s technicians appreciate the ease of working on ADB disc brakes, as well as the brakes’ friction life, and the Bendix ESP Electronic Stability Program uses a comprehensive system of sensors that can address both roll and directional stability, recognizing factors that could lead to vehicle rollovers or loss of control.

“Rather than implement ‘sea change’ transitions, we bring proven technologies on board with each new model year,” Warterfield said. “We have a lot of experienced drivers who can push back on ‘newfangled contraptions’ until they experience the benefits themselves. But when they learn how well these technologies work, they embrace it. I introduce these things gradually, brick by brick — but that’s how you build a foundation of safety.”

The teams at both Upstaging and Bendix emphasize that no technology can replace a safe, alert, professional driver who practices safe driving habits and is supported by proactive, ongoing driver training.

“They really are a special team at Upstaging, and we’re incredibly proud to work with them,” said Lance Hansen, vice president of aftermarket sales, fleet, service and field operations for Bendix. “Covering so much territory, running varied, interesting, and vital loads in demanding time conditions — and doing it all with a laser focus on supporting their drivers and prioritizing safety? Standing ovation, every time.”

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