Dream hauls

| December 21, 2008

Customers regularly invite him to dinner. One even paid for a night’s lodging for Staley when the owner-operator beat him to the Death Valley, Calif., drop point by a day.

Staley came to his current operation via Custom Critical’s team reefer service, where earlier this decade he had several trucks leased on. He started selling his small fleet in 2003 after deciding to return to his roots as a single-truck, solo owner-operator. When Staley qualified for Custom Critical’s Four Star contractor awards, for the top 50 contractors, in 2004, now-retired company Vice President Jim Snider advised that he join the Passport team.

He was something of a natural for the team, with a keen interest in restored autos – he can claim a classic ’68 Ford Bronco among his own restoration credits. And now he easily stays in shape, loading up to six cars per trailer, depending on the shipper’s needs. Fitting a full six vehicles on the two deck levels in the 53-foot trailer can be a sweaty, demanding job, but in the end it’s worth it.

“I go home for a week every month these days,” he says. “I don’t drive at night anymore. I get good sleep.” And with six cars coming from the East Coast to California, he might gross $16,000, he says, easily $5 to $6 per mile.

When he bought the 2004 Kenworth T600 he hauls with today, he told his dealer it’d be the last one. With his revenue, it ought to carry him to the end of his driving career in style.

CARGO: New military equipment
RATE: $6-plus/mile (including fuel surcharge)
HAULER: Brian and Marie Patrick, leased to Landstar
SHIPPER: BAE, U.S. armed forces
RECEIVER: Various military installations
EQUIPMENT: 2007 Peterbilt 379 with lift axle and 2006 tri-axle Load King removable gooseneck with detachable fourth axle
LOAD/UNLOAD: Typically under one hour, longer if tarping required

Brian and Marie Patrick, of Chelsea, Mich., haul oversize, new equipment from manufacturer BAE Systems’ five facilities in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania for the U.S. military. “There are 55 of us who do this,” Brian Patrick says of the core of Landstar’s specialized team delivering new Bradley fighting vehicles, MRAP military personnel carriers and other vehicles.

Since they landed that niche with agents Doug and Nancy Cooper, out of Arkansas, after years hauling general military freight as well as arms, ammunition and explosives, they’ve increased their gross revenue, Brian says, by $100,000 a year while decreasing their gross miles. Their take-home is up at least $50,000.

“We’re clearing $300,000 in the end,” he says. But making that kind of money comes with sacrifices, Brian says. “Our home time is very limited.”

The road to success in the standard AA&E hauling arena starts with having a team operation. Other entry hurdles require significant carrier investment in satellite tracking equipment and hazmat-type levels ($5 million) of insurance, frequent background checks and DOT inspections. And unlike the rates in the Patricks’ specialized operation, say Duenweg, Mo.-based owner-operators David and Teresa Hill, leased to Landstar, typical AA&E freight averages less in revenue – between “$3 and $4 a mile, typically,” David says. Although quite high compared to some hauls, the rates the Hills were seeing fell off a bit in 2007.

All the same, AA&E haulers are a select bunch, with about 30 carriers participating in the program nationwide, including in addition to Landstar and the Hills’ former carrier, Tri-State Motor Transit, sizable outfits like Mercer and Baggett. Most owner-operator teams approved are leased to carriers, but not all.

However, team haulers looking to run AA&E on their own authority now need to establish a relationship with an armed-forces shipper to enter the program.

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