Police In Colorado Crack Down On Diesel Truck Owners For 'Rolling Coal'
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Diesel trucks used to spit out black, polluting exhaust smoke. Over the years, manufacturers have worked hard to shed that image by building cleaner engines. But there is a subculture of diesel pickup truck owners who intentionally modify their engines and even add smokestacks so they can send out big clouds of black smoke. From member station KUNC in Fort Colins, Colo., Stephanie Paige Ogburn reports on rolling coal.
STEPHANIE PAIGE OGBURN, BYLINE: If you've never heard of rolling coal, Jake Rogakis can explain it in one sentence.
JAKE ROGAKIS: To roll coal is to pretty much just floor it and blow as much black smoke as you possibly can.
OGBURN: Rogakis has tuned his diesel engine so that he can blow clouds of thick black smoke from his tailpipe on purpose.
ROGAKIS: It's just fun. Like, go drive my truck. You'll have a blast, guaranteed.
OGBURN: On a Friday night in Fort Collins, Rogakis is one of about a hundred guys hanging out in small groups at a strip mall parking lot outside a Taco Bell. They come here on weekends to check out each other's rides and talk shop. Brock Anderson and Cory Wiggins are in another group. I asked them why they think coal rolling is becoming more popular.
BROCK ANDERSON: I'm not sure. It's - you know, why do people do a lot of things, you know what I mean? It's 'cause everybody's doing it.
CORY WIGGINS: You also get more power, and it's just something cool. Ladies like it.
ANDERSON: (Laughter) No. I don't know if women like that.
WIGGINS: No, all ladies love it.
OGBURN: Anderson and Wiggins may not agree on coal rolling's lady-killing potential, but all the drivers here, including Jake Rogakis, say the black smoke sends a message.
ROGAKIS: I don't deliberately do it to someone unless they, like, do something to make me mad, cut me off.
OGBURN: What about, like, some of the videos you see on the Internet where someone's rolling coal on a bike or a girl? Does that happen around here?
ROGAKIS: Can't say I haven't done it.
OGBURN: Rogakis says he has blown black smoke at bikers, especially when his friends egg him on.
ROGAKIS: If you see a bike, you just can't help but to do it. No matter how many times you do it, every single time, you'll still get a smile on your face.
OGBURN: Not everyone is smiling. The World Health Organization classifies diesel exhaust as a carcinogen, and rollers can temporarily black out intersections with their dark smoke. So Fort Collins police are cracking down.
JOEL TOWER: There goes another truck right there. And I don't know if you picked that up. There's another truck. And so here's our trucks.
OGBURN: Officer Joel Tower is spending his Friday night patrolling for coal rollers. Tower says even though altering a truck in this way violates the federal Clean Air Act, there's no state law against it. So the city had to get a little creative.
TOWER: And the one that we came up with through discussions with the city attorney's office was exhibition of speed. And if we see the big smoke and we hear the engine revving, we can write them under the exhibition of speed statute.
OGBURN: Rolling coal is becoming common enough that other states are also starting to notice. This May, New Jersey even passed a law banning it.
OGBURN: Coal roller Jake Rogakis says he has been ticketed by the Fort Collins police. But so far, it hasn't slowed him down.
ROGAKIS: Not really. I've already lost my license twice before, so...
OGBURN: Not all coal rollers feel like Rogakis. Brock Anderson has tricked out his truck to roll coal, but he says it's still important to be respectful of other people.
ANDERSON: There's a time and a place. Like, out on the farm when I'm mudding - that's a different story. I'm going to be tearing up a field. Nobody is going to be out there. I'm not disrespecting anybody. So it's unfortunate that a small group of guys can give us whole gear-heads a bad name.
OGBURN: Coal rolling, Anderson says, is fine as long it stays on the farm. For NPR News, I'm Stephanie Paige Ogburn in Fort Collins, Colo.
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