Chasing the Green

Todd Dills | January 01, 2012

R.C. Barnes, pulling a step deck with his 1998 Kenworth T2000 for G&W Hauling and Rigging of Cleveland, says there’s plenty of large equipment needing moves. He recently hauled crane beams for two crane manufacturers in Ohio on stretch flatbeds. The hauls paid $2,500 for 516 miles between Cleveland and a Siemens installation in Charlotte, N.C.

“Most of those crane beams are less than 10,000 pounds,” Barnes says, though every crane usually takes three loads. Though he often also hauls with a step deck, using a stretch flatbed for long over-dimensional loads means getting back-loaded with decent-paying freight from load boards used by G&W, reducing deadhead miles.

Owner-operator Steven Abell, leased to Greentree Transportation, sticks to high-rate freight, grossing $198,000 on just 88,000 miles loaded and empty in 2010, or $2.25 a mile. This year he expects to exceed that revenue rate.

He pulls a 2004 XL Specialized three-axle double-drop step deck with a 1997 Freightliner Classic.

“I don’t haul regular step deck freight,” he says. “If it isn’t oversize, I don’t do it – no pipe, no pallets. I try to stay with one piece, up to 74,000 pounds, and take it where it needs to go. The rates just aren’t good enough for regular step deck freight. I don’t know how owner-operators can run their tires off with $4 fuel and stay above water.”

Florida-based owner-operator Tim Philmon, leased to Landstar, takes a similar tack but does it with a Transcraft 48-ft. flatbed. Philmon’s numbers reflect the larger flatbed income trend over the last two years, including a particularly sharp spike in demand for the first three quarters in 2011. He expected 2011 to be “a banner year” with upward of $60,000 net profit, a sizable boost from previous years.

Philmon’s not putting his 2005 Peterbilt 379 in line at steel mills and lumber yards to do it, though. “I try to keep in the specialized area,” he says. “You’re not having to sit in line on both ends.”

Given a lack of truck capacity in flatbed, Philmon says, increased demand means an owner-operator raise as long as you’re paid by percent of revenue. He tracks demand by searching the Landstar load board for the number of loads paying more than $2.50 a mile. “From about March to mid-August, mid-July, [in 2011] on any given day there were well over 400-500 [flatbed] loads over $3 a mile. Today, there might be 50. I think the demand is slowing up – this climate changes so fast because of the lack of trucks out here.”

Reacting quickly to take advantage of those good times, in any niche, is the secret to high income, Philmon says. “That’s why I stay out so long sometimes.”

Freight and rates strong for tanks

Bill Cyphers, owner and part operator of Kansas-based Dale Barnes Trucking fleet, says a steady uptick in freight and rates for his tank-hauling business has made big investments possible, such as two brand-new tank trailers (about $80,000 per) last year. As his son Zachary gets into the business with the 2003 Peterbilt 379 pictured (the Kenworth is Bill’s), the firm seeks more opportunites.

There is a 6-cents-a-mile pay premium for leased tank owner-operators over flatbed, reefer and van contractors, says Gordon Klemp of the National Transportation Institute. That’s due in part to higher deadhead miles in the segment, where most leased owner-operators are paid on percentage.

On the independent side, though owner-operators are rare, the niche remains lucrative. For certain commodities, too, it’s a stable business. Independent tank owner-operator Bill Cyphers, with six-truck fleet Dale Barnes Trucking, notes per-truck revenues of $200,000 yearly hauling liquid fertilizer, anhydrous ammonia and occasionally propane with tank trailers the company owns. Cyphers says freight availability and rates have risen over the last five years.

Visit and search for “pulling tanks” for the tanks story, with more on leased owner-operator rates.

Cyphers, who continues to haul for his and his business partner’s company in a 2004 Kenworth W900 as his sons join him in the business, was hoping to further expand that versatility at the end of 2011 by adding two new tankers to the eight they already own. The new tankers would increase their capacity to haul hazardous acids and other commodities. 

  • Big R Phillips

    Congrats Tim! I too have an older truck i’m trying to get leased on with G&W Tanks in Savannah,Ga. 1996 KW W900l 3406e cat. Maaan i am busting my hump to get away from these containers! As of today my truck is down due to air compressor problems and i dont have enough money on hand to finish the repair. I have to borrow money from my company i’m leased on with to get back rolling. I know two guys that have signed on with G&W and thier revenue has doubled with out working thier trucks to death and good home time with the family. And they have older trucks too. You can keep your truck in great condition if you make enough money to set aside for not if but when something breaks. And you dont have to beat your truck up to make the money! Congrats again and God Bless!

  • localnet

    The oil patch is good money… ;) strives to maintain an open forum for reader opinions. Click here to read our comment policy.