Attention to detail

| July 19, 2012

Owner-Operator of the Month — July 2012

Texas trucker’s focus on maintenance keeps him on the path of success.

by Elizabeth Manning

In the 20 years that he’s been an owner-operator, Beaumont, Texas, native James Leatherwood has learned more than his fair share of lessons, but one stands out: “Maintenance, maintenance, maintenance,” he says. “Know your truck and keep a close eye on it.”

In 1992, Leatherwood bought his first truck, a silver 1988 Freightliner Classic with a nine-speed transmission and a 400 Cummins Big Cam. From the beginning, he took a hands-on approach to maintenance, which he says is a one-man job. “If you don’t get up under the truck yourself and get to know it, you won’t notice when something is wrong. Mechanics are often in a hurry just to get the job done and don’t take time to pay attention to detail.”

Doing your own work, he adds, you’ll see the outcomes of bad driving habits clearly, “like how hard you’re coming down on your brakes on a regular basis, or how your usual speed is affecting your truck.”

He’s been as hands-on with customizations as he is with maintenance. He added a wood floor to his first truck. On its exterior, he repainted and added lots of LEDs.

Since purchasing this Western Star a year ago, Leatherwood has driven more than 104,000 miles, and he averages six miles per gallon.

His current tractor, an ‘06 Western Star 4900EX, has acquired quite a few extras itself, including a microwave, a 26-inch flat-screen television and chrome mud flap hangers with LED lights with mud flaps made of horse stall mats.

Leatherwood’s career in trucking began in 1985, after being laid off at a refinery where he worked in construction. “I was about 22,” he says. “I had no idea what I wanted to do … but the truck driving school I talked to promised me I could get a job.”

During the job search following completion of the driving course, “this one guy kept telling me to come back tomorrow,” he adds. “Well, me being young, I kept coming back, even though he didn’t really want to hire me.”

His persistence paid off. Eventually an employee quit, and J&L Trucking’s owner was in a bind to get a load delivered. Leatherwood was hired.

Afterward, Leatherwood worked with eight companies as a company driver or an owner-operator in his quest for a job providing adequate home time. In 2000, he joined Sleetwood Trucking. The company split in 2003, and he began work with the part that became Louisiana Transport Inc. His agent then was Terry Winchester, father of Leatherwood’s current agent, Shane Winchester.

At LTI, he hauls steel and “a whole lot of fire hydrants” with his 2003 Transcraft trailer. Working for a percentage of revenue, Leatherwood had net earnings of $40,000 on just 88,000 miles in 2010. His wife tracks his fuel costs and other expenses.