Dream hauls

| December 21, 2008

What’s your idea of the perfect haul? For Wheatfield, Ind.-based Bryan DeKock, leased to Trans-Distribution Inc., a small carrier dedicated to Sweetener Supply of Brookfield, Ill., the concept is simple. His tank operation keeps him home most nights of the week, running in a 200- to 300-mile radius of the Chicago area. “We’re making money, they’re making money, and everybody’s happy,” DeKock says. “For the first time as an owner-operator, I’m not looking around for the greener grass.”

But for others it’s not all about high revenue, a strong fuel surcharge or reliable home time. It could be having minimal dock time, running past brilliant scenery or dealing with pleasant or interesting shippers or receivers. Whatever the case, here are five owner-operators enjoying their dreams hauls – runs where any associated hassle is well worth the trouble.

CARGO: Steel I-beams
RATE: $2 to $3/mile, higher for oversize beams (including fuel surcharge)
HAULER: T&D Trucking, owned and operated by Tom Niccum
SHIPPER: Steel Dynamics, Columbia City, Ind.
RECEIVER: Dubose Steel, Roseboro, N.C.
EQUIPMENT: 2001 Freightliner Century Class with 53-ft. Wilson step deck with aluminum risers
LOAD/UNLOAD: One hour or less

Independent Tom Niccum’s T&D Trucking is a relatively young business. “I always said I’d never buy a truck,” says the former Schneider National company driver, but since 2001, when he bought a new Freightliner Century Class and leased on with a carrier, his fortunes have only brightened. Today he’s regularly hauling I-beams direct as an independent for Steel Dynamics’ Columbia City, Ind., plant, grossing close to $3 a mile.

Because the loads are paid by weight, “The heavier the load is, the more you make all the way around,” Niccum said on his way to North Carolina. “This load I’ve got on right now is 43,500 pounds. This one pays $3.40 per hundred pounds,” or $1,479, plus a 36 percent-of-the-load fuel surcharge this past September. On the 740-mile haul from Columbia City, Ind., to Dubose Steel in Roseboro, N.C., Niccum grossed $2.72 per mile, counting the $533 fuel surcharge.

He found the haul when he went independent in 2006 – the Steel Dynamics plant is close to his home in Wabash, Ind. And he’s further upped his overall revenue since by paying independent agent Lisa Haupert $100 a week for backhauls. In addition to having driven for many years with her husband, Robert, Lisa, based in North Manchester, Ind., also serves as agent for Kaplan Trucking, of Cleveland, and looks on her service to owner-operators like Niccum as a necessity in hard times.

“It’s getting harder and harder for the independent to go out there and truly make a living,” Haupert says. “Robert’s been in trucking for 44 years – we’ve seen the worst and we’ve seen the best. I know what it’s like to be out here and what a dream it is to try to make it on your own. I’m out here trying to cheer them on.”

One aspect of Niccum’s haul that makes it a dream today is Haupert’s tireless dedication to getting freight for the independents coming back from runs south that’s as good as the Steel Dynamics freight they hauled out. Niccum, Haupert says, is a good example of a hauler helping her do that job well. Of his 53-foot Wilson step deck with risers that make it capable of accommodating the typically 50-foot I-beams, Lisa says, “the risers make it versatile.” He can bring back a big dozer or other piece of rolling equipment, for instance, she says. “His equipment is a little more expensive than a flatbed, but he gets the gravy on both ends.”

This year he expects his net revenue to be significantly higher than the $60,000 he saw last year, partly due to Haupert’s help. “This year’s been much better, so far,” Niccum says.

Taunton, Minn.-based owner-operator Jack Berghorst has had a truck leased with Daily Express, based in Carlisle, Pa., since 1994, when he started out with a 48-foot flatbed. Today he’s moved on to a seven-axle deck setup to haul mammoth wind-energy machine heads dedicated to the General Electric account. And while he gets only about 3 mpg for all miles, Daily’s generous fuel-surcharge program – he gets back more than a dollar for each loaded mile – keeps him highly profitable.

Early in his lease he realized the earning potential in the large oversize business Daily did, moving up to a company-owned three-axle step deck in the mid-’90s. Later, he hauled oversize on removable gooseneck stretch trailers. “I did a lot of tall stuff,” he says, even capitalizing on the pre-Y2K panic in 1999, hauling big generators “out East for people who thought they would lose their power.”

Similarly, when the opportunity to move wind-energy equipment arose, he jumped on it, investing in a brand-new Kenworth W900 spec’d for heavy haul. Loaded, his rig maxes out at 118 feet long on 11 axles, 14 feet high and nearly 12 feet wide.

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