Pulling Tanks

Todd Dills | November 01, 2011

“The customers are almost always happy to see us,” says Ray Lawson, leased to Langer Transport. That’s because consignees aren’t merely ordering product to fill inventory, says owner-operator Helen Johnston, leased to Dana Transport. “They often need that truck overnight so they can keep their production going.”

“The people who unload us are nicer, smarter people,” Lawson says. “You don’t put just anybody unloading a trailer where a mistake could open you up to a million-dollar liability.”

How the costs are spread

Carriers cover many of the owner-operator’s ancillary costs, says Lawson. “Usually, the things that the company is responsible for are the trailers and the washes.”

Tank haulers must watch their speed on curves to avoid situations such as this one, where a slight road grade makes a turn even more precarious.

Unless you’re hauling only one type of product, most liquid loads will require a washout at a carrier terminal facility’s tank wash or an independently operated wash, which starts at around $125. “It could need a cold, hot or acid wash,” Lawson says. The “heel,” any product left behind on the tank walls while unloading, must also be disposed of, typically paid for by the carrier.

Owner-operators looking to lease with a chemical or food-grade liquid bulk company will need a hazmat endorsement, as well as a Transportation Workers Identification Credential Card, which costs $135 and is required to enter port facilities. The TWIC card requires individual application and background checks similar to what haulers testing for the hazmat endorsement already undergo. Critics say it’s unnecessary redundancy, but Hanson notes that within a certain time limit, you can use a single background check for both the hazmat endorsement application (or renewal) as well as the TWIC card.

Adamson says many chemical plants require drivers to present the card. “All chemical plants are supposed to be requiring it within a year or so,” he says. You can pre-enroll in the program online via twicprogram.tsa.dhs.gov, providing identification documents to begin the process.

“Our guys are required to have at least two years’ over-the-road experience, and they have to have the hazmat endorsement and a TWIC card. And we need drivers right now.”

— Mike Baker, Usher Transport safety and HR vice president

For a video with owner-operator Jim Schlise, leased to Usher Transport, about his career with the liquid bulk carrier, check out the video section on OverdriveOnline.com.

It’s uncommon for liquid bulk owner-operators to own the trailers they pull, but they often pay for extra equipment. For a PTO-driven pump, auxiliary air compressor, hoses and fittings, in addition to heat-in-transit connections to the tractor’s cooling system, Lawson says he spent around $10,000 to outfit his tractor. He runs with both a compressor and a pump, but some operators can get by with one or the other. You may lose some loads if you’re lacking in a particular area, as flammable products cannot be unloaded with an air compressor but must be pumped off, says Johnston, who doesn’t run with a pump on her 2003 Peterbilt 379.

A few leased carriers or shippers with dedicated independent tank fleets pay owner-operators hourly rates, says Steven “Buck” Landry. “I know three chemical companies that do it, and they all pretty much have a waiting list to get on.” Landry was paid $70 per hour, in addition to other pay perks, by Premier Chemical until an accident that wasn’t his fault put his custom truck (pictured) in limbo with the insurance company. Others are Sochem Solutions and his current employer, FAS Environmental Services.

Miller’s startup package for owner-operators includes leasing all accessories needed. When Adamson signed on with the company, it paid for outfitting his 2004 International 9900 Eagle, which he recently finished paying off in the company’s lease-purchase program. Miller’s equipment doesn’t include a separate air compressor for airing off loads, says Hanson. “Some companies use a separate compressor. We use the air compressor on the tractor itself – it goes through an air filter/dryer system, then hooks to the trailer to air it up.”

At Usher Transport, Baker says a gear-driven pump will run the owner-operator “a couple thousand for the pump, the PTO and the labor put in.” Add “a couple thousand in fittings” and other costs to get started, he says.

Though it’s been many years since he rigged his 1990 Peterbilt 379 for chemical tank hauling, Schlise says he paid around $800 for his pump and a couple hundred more for the PTO that drives it. His two-cylinder Quincy air compressor cost about the same as the pump.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1455881185 Chuck Guintard

    been with miller’s for over 8 years,don’t plan on leaving

  • Tim

    “guaranteed raise when rates go up.” and we know the gross revenue HOW? I work percentage and KNOW that my company is not telling us the REAL numbers. What to do?

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