Dream hauls

| December 21, 2008

Gravel roads to the drop points, he says, are often soggy, requiring extreme care to avoid the roads’ shoulders. Another challenge is turning the vehicle. “You have to make sure you can make your turn well before you start it.” It’s nearly impossible to back your way out of any mishap; consequently, you must have CDL endorsements for doubles and triples to haul this freight.

Another challenge comes in heavy deadhead miles. “I live about 200 miles from where I work,” Berghorst says, referring to the Manly, Iowa, rail yard where most of his hauls originate. Daily’s fuel-surcharge bonus program helps account for empty miles and the surcharge differs depending on weight.

“We like to promote that,” says Dan Santry, Daily Express Midwest recruiting manager.

The week of Sept. 15, with diesel at $4.023 per gallon and a per-mile 58-cent basic fuel surcharge, Berghorst was getting $1.16 per mile for fuel. “For every load over 90,000 pounds,” says Santry, “the fuel surcharge is doubled.” Extra surcharges are also paid back to owner-operators hauling loads heavier than 50,000 pounds (1.5 times) and 70,000 pounds (1.75 times).

But even with the deadhead and a fuel economy just barely 3 mpg for all miles, Berghorst says, he’s at $3 a mile in revenue this year on all miles, sufficient to cover his expenses with plenty of profit to spare, after only four months in the wind energy operation. And associated load-and-unload times are small compared to hauling windmill blades on stretch flats, which Berghorst has also done.

In mid-September, Berghorst was scheduled for several 300-mile round-trip hauls, each paying almost $1,700 to his truck.

CARGO: Wind turbine machine heads
RATE: $4-plus/mile (including fuel surcharge)
HAULER: Jack Berghorst, leased to Daily Express
SHIPPER: General Electric
RECEIVER: Midwest wind farms
EQUIPMENT: 2008 Kenworth W900 with lift axle and seven-axle custom-made deck trailer
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.

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