Dream hauls

| December 21, 2008

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.

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: High-end and classic autos
RATE: $2.50-plus/mile (including fuel surcharge)
HAULER: Hal Staley, leased to FedEx Custom Critical Passport Auto Transport
SHIPPER: Car owner/sellers
EQUIPMENT: 53-foot Kentucky enclosed car hauler
LOAD/UNLOAD: 20-30 minutes per car

Owner-operator Hal Staley’s frequently told his three kids that “as long as you love your work, you’ll never go to work.” Such has been the case for the 54-year-old in his long trucking career, particularly now that he’s got the gig of a lifetime with FedEx Custom Critical’s Passport Auto Transport division, headquartered near St. Louis. He netted $250,000 last year, and this year’s looking just as good, he says.

In addition to the high income, “I haven’t had one bad experience,” he says. His customers are “all really impressed with the entire operation.” He meets the shipper, typically an individual, at home to load a prized possession, such as the mint-condition 1960s Ferrari Staley recently hauled.

The receiver, like the shipper, is often a high-touch party. “What’s really funny,” says Staley, “is you haul a lot of eBay cars. After you pick it up, the guy who ordered it might call you up and say, ‘What does the car look like?’ Sometimes I hate to have to tell them.” As Staley puts it, “What looks good to me might not look so good to you, or vice versa.”

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