Owner-Operator of the Month

James Jaillet | March 01, 2011

Risks and rewards

Early in his career, Bryan Smith fulfilled a childhood aspiration of owning a truck.

Flatbed hauler Bryan Smith knew managing a one-truck operation wouldn’t be an easy endeavor, but after becoming a company driver for Schneider National in 1991 upon his return from Saudi Arabia and Desert Storm, Smith says he had a childhood dream to accomplish.

With his 2009 Peterbilt 386, Bryan Smith hauls John Deere tractors and equipment nationwide to dealers and raw materials back to factories. The 20-year owner-operator hit 2 million safe miles last year.

He knew the risks, he says, and he knew all of the “headaches that can come with it.” He stayed at Schneider only briefly before moving on to Art Pape Transfer of Dubuque, Iowa, as a company driver. Two years later, he used savings earned during his short trucking tenure as a down payment on a ’91 Freightliner FLD 120.

“I knew it was a risky business,” the 41-year-old says. “I wanted the freedom that went with it, and I wanted the chance for the rewards that come with it if you do it right.”

Loras Pape, president and CEO of Art Pape Transfer, says Smith has “continued to work himself up to his most recent truck purchase in 2008 – a brand new Peterbilt.”

That 2009 Model 386 was Smith’s fourth truck and his third new one.

In 2010, Smith netted $43,000. In the years before the recession, 2005-2008, Smith netted more than $60,000 each year.

“His work ethic and his patience are just unbelievable,” Pape says of Smith. “He won’t cut any corners.”

The Dubuque, Iowa, resident says achieving success as an owner-operator starts with balancing several things at once and keeping a close watch on equipment.

During his tour in Saudi Arabia in 1990, during Desert Storm, Smith drove bulldozers, road graders, forklifts and loaders.

“You’ve got to find the right company, and find freight that’s going to pay you. You have to keep your costs down, keep your idle time down, [hold] speed down, get better mileage, do your own maintenance.”

Smith’s interest in mechanics led him to complete a two-year automotive technician course. He uses the knowledge to work on his truck, which increases his profits.

“He keeps his truck up and his downtime to a minimum,” says Dave Leach, service adviser at Hawkeye Truck and Trailer in Dubuque. “He pays very close attention to things and always gets his maintenance done on time. His truck is always spotless.”

“You’ve got to have some luck sometimes, too,” Smith says, “but you’ve got to work hard and manage your business – that means all aspects.”

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