Tank owner-operators believe theirs is the best specialty. Most say they couldn’t earn elsewhere what they make on the typically fewer miles they run in liquid bulk. The physical workload isn’t too demanding.
“You’re not backing up to docks – you don’t have to physically move your own freight,” says Eric Hanson, recruiting manager with Jackson, Miss.-based Miller Transporters, which hauls chemicals nationwide. “It’s very scheduled in terms of pickups and deliveries – very rarely will they have to load and unload something by themselves.”
And even if you do, says operator Steven “Buck” Landry, hauling for FAS Environmental Services of Pierre Part, La., the physical work usually involves nothing more than “hooking hoses.”
The work can be solitary. Landry often vacuums excess fluid from injection wells in Louisiana and Texas and hauls it away for disposal. “There isn’t a soul around most of these wells,” he says. If you’re delivering to a union plant, “nobody wants to be around when you’re unloading,” given potential liability for a spill.
Rather, the truck stop perception – that tanking is dangerous, difficult, not for the faint of heart – is often simply not true. Operators in the niche find a professionalism uncommon in other applications and, when rates are as good as they are today, the possibility of making a very good living.
Pay and other perks
Bulk tank pay is generally higher than van and flatbed, says Kentucky-based Rick Gaskill, hauling for a small fleet leased to Quality Carriers. Most bulk tank carriers pay drivers a percentage of the gross, meaning a “guaranteed raise when rates go up.”
“I don’t have to run my tail off, that’s the best part,” says Chris Adamson, leased to Miller Transporters at its Mobile, Ala., terminal. “You’re not killing yourself to run to make a living. It’s a lot easier than van or flatbed in that respect, though a lot of people make it seem to be harder.”
Last year, Adamson ran 103,000 miles for gross revenue of $189,000 and a net $86,000, what he calls an average year, up from 2009’s relatively low $60,000 net. With miles picking up further and his truck paid off as of January, he expects to pocket a good $25,000 more in 2011.
Percentage pay equitably distributes carrier revenue between contracted owner-operators and the back office, as rates vary widely, depending on the commodity, says Usher Transport Safety Vice President Mike Baker, based in Louisville, Ky. “There’s such a diversity in tank in the products we haul. You may haul a load of motor oil out that pays $2.40 a mile… On the way back, you may have a chemical that pays $3.85.”
Usher-leased owner-operator Jim Schlise hauls mostly motor oil and related products outbound from Louisville, where he lives, and typically deadheads back. Because he usually top-loads more of the same or compatible product, he rarely has to deal with post-unload tank washes. Plus, he says, “I stay within a 500-600-mile radius. I’m usually only out about two nights a week.”
Schlise, who drives a 1990 Peterbilt 379, was named the Kentucky Motor Transport Association’s Driver of the Year, after earning Usher’s annual award in 2010. “It’s a customer service business,” he says, where relationships with shippers and receivers are more professional than in other areas of trucking.