Overlooked niches

Max Kvidera | August 01, 2010

Today, Wiederholt Transportation operates eight tractors and 10 tankers. Most of the loads contain lignin, a liquid byproduct from wood pulp processing. Wiederholt tankers haul it 325 miles from northern Wisconsin to northern Illinois. Since lignin is a food grade product, the hatch on the tanker has to be secured and opened correctly, with tamper-detection seals applied at the mill.

“This works for me because of my location, because the road to the paper mill and plant pass by my front door,” Wiederholt says. “You also have to be in communication with the shipper and processor. Sometimes orders from the processor can change two or three times a day.”

Wiederholt says he’s paid by the load ton at a rate that’s comparable to what hauling general freight pays. Although he’s not getting rich with this specialized haul, he appreciates the consistency. “And we don’t have to work Saturday and Sunday,” he says.

Safety gear hauler

Leo Wilkins uses his 2006 stepdeck trailer to transport medium-duty truck chassis and safety equipment used in highway construction. While the truck hauling has waned, the safety gear transporting business takes most of his time, especially during warm weather.

Hauling petroleum is often overlooked by small independents, but it’s a profitable specialty for Michael Goldstein.

A trucker for 37 years and an owner-operator since 1983, Wilkins has specialized in hauling trucks and motor home chassis for most of his career. When he started as an owner-operator, he transported trucks for General Motors out of Pontiac, Mich., making up to $4 a mile. When that business dried up about four years ago, he leased to a carrier hauling trucks. He picked up his own authority two years ago and began hauling used trucks for dealers from auctions or other locations. One of those contacts led him to hauling the safety equipment, such as traffic cones and electronic directional signal trailers.

Wilkins says his loads require much more work than the average freight. He knows how to stack multiple trucks, deftly using ramps, wood blocks and chains. If an exhaust stack is too high to fit under overpasses, he might have to remove it.

He estimates he’s found 60 loads in the past six months through word of mouth. By picking up trucks for dealers at auctions, he saves them the expense of hiring a driver and avoiding the risk of something happening to the truck on the road.

“I charge more, but my customer says he doesn’t worry about me because I know what I’m doing,” Wilkins says. “I stay in contact with the shipper and receiver, so they know where I am and when they can expect me to arrive.”

Wilkins earns $2.50 a mile for hauling the safety equipment and $2-$3 a mile for transporting trucks.

“You’ve got to build a good work reputation,” Wilkins says. “You can charge a little more when you do that. I look at it this way: If I haul a load 1,000 miles that pays me $2,000 instead of one that pays $1,000, and I have to work a couple hours on one end and a couple hours on the other end, that’s $250 an hour.”

Petroleum transporter

Hauling petroleum was supposed to be a short-term job for Michael Goldstein. At first he was intimidated by dealing with a flammable, hazardous material. But after undergoing training, he found he liked the work.

He’s been hauling since 1999 and an owner-operator since 2005. As a leased contractor, Goldstein hauls gasoline, diesel and aviation fuel in California for MG Liquid Logistics Transport, which owns two trucks and has four leased operators. He doesn’t have a set schedule, but he’s home every night.

“Brokers will typically start calling us around 8 o’clock in the morning,” he says. “A lot of it depends on the market. If the price is going down 2 cents, they’ll hold out until the price changes and then the calls start coming in.”

  • Marishka

    While I respect what all of you do, I find it hard to agree with the plant load hauler….to have your drivers run so hard that they have to do what you refer to as “creative logging” is not only wrong but illegal…..not to mention that the co-driver was not the holder of a CDL. How do you get by with that for so long?

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