Pulling Tanks

Todd Dills | November 01, 2011
Owner-operator per-mile average pay for tank operations, even factoring in more deadheading, exceeds that for van, reefer and flatbed, according to the National Transportation Institute’s annual Survey of Driver Wages. Over 11 years, tank pay rose 7 cents per mile, as opposed to 5 or 6 cents in the other applications. Additionally, tank operators escaped the stagnant or falling pay that affected other applications during the recession, says Gordon Klemp, NTI principal. Miller Transporters’ Eric Hanson says that, since mid-2010, tank freight rates and volumes have been increasing.

Baker and Hanson say they’re actively looking for owner-operators to join their fleets. Tank experience is not a prerequisite. Hanson says, “Most of the guys we get in here come from outside the tank industry.” He says after they get some experience, many say they wish they had moved to tank years ago.

The challenge of shifting freight

Unless you’re hauling a fuel-type compartmentalized tank, your 7,000-9,000-gal. trailer is likely to be a single compartment, which demands keen attention while driving.

Illustrating the sloshing effect that can occur in a tank on the road, Helen Johnston uses a partially filled pop bottle. “Put it on its side and slant it a little, then turn it back,” she says. The movement that occurs demonstrates what happens to liquid in a single-compartment trailer.

“That load’s not worth your life – if you need to stop and take a couple-hour nap, do it. Some companies are just pushing and pushing the drivers. That’s why there are rollovers in tankers: It’s because safety isn’t put first.”

“During the winter,” Johnston says, “if it gets a little bit slick, you have to be careful up hills, as all the weight moves off your drives to the trailer tandems. Going down a hill, downshifting is crucial,” as the liquid will naturally put greater downward force on your rig, “pushing” it downhill.

“We have to take curves slow,” says owner-operator Ray Lawson. “If you see us on a ramp or coming into a curve, we’re usually going below the posted speed.”

The heavier the product, the slower Lawson goes. “A lot of truckers won’t worry with looking at the speedometer for curves and turns, but we don’t ever take a curve without looking at the speedometer. It’s too easy to misjudge — you have to know exactly what your speed is.”

Tanker safety on Alaska’s Haul Road

Think dealing with the weight of liquid bulk on paved highways in the Rockies sounds like a challenge? Imagine it on the unpaved Dalton Highway, or “Haul Road,” in Alaska. The road was the site of early “Ice Road Trucker” episodes, which dramatized the danger of its sharp hills and curves, especially in winter.

The Haul Road is ice-free in summer, but constant rutting of the road takes a heavy toll on equipment.

The bulk drivers with Carlile Transportation, one of the major Haul Road carriers, are “the most professional group of guys that I’ve worked with,” says Bulk Operations Manager Jason Klein. “They’re taking care of their equipment all the time; it’s their bread and butter.”

They make good money, says Klein, with relaxed hours of service limits that enable accumulation of many more miles than your average lower-48 hauler. “Minimum three to four years of Haul Road experience is required. There are 11 percent grades — it’s a different animal.”

Pulling 9,300-gallon tanks, loaded, they run heavy at 104,000 pounds, Klein says. “Working for the oil companies, everything is based on safety — if you have an accident or a spill, you can lose your contracts.” Last year, he adds, the company moved more than 21 million bulk gallons accident- and injury-free.


For examples of what it can take to get into tank with your own authority — and your own tank trailer — check out Todd Dills’ Channel 19 blog from the second week in November for profiles of two Midwest independents hauling tank freight to farm and feedlot: overdriveonline.com/channel19.

  • 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?

OverdriveOnline.com strives to maintain an open forum for reader opinions. Click here to read our comment policy.