Slow and Steady

By Max Kvidera | September 09, 2009

Some states require escort vehicles in both front and rear; a few specify a steering vehicle in the rear, along with a trailing pilot car; and some don’t require any at all. In Montana, if your total length is 150 feet or more, you must have two pilot vehicles.

Sheehan owns a 2008 Dodge truck as a pilot vehicle and employs a full-time driver who doubles as a team driver when running empty to pick up the next load. He modified his trailer to be able to carry the pickup and save fuel and wear and tear on the vehicle, which already has more than 50,000 miles on it. “I’m able to absorb some of the costs by not having to pay for a pilot car and driver,” he says. “Some companies supply you with a pilot vehicle and driver and you’re stuck with it, even if he crashes.”

If you’re running a load wider, taller, longer or heavier than the basic oversize classification, state police often are required as escorts. In some states the duty is rotated among patrolmen, while in other states the duty is voluntary. Bryant says he had to cool his heels for about eight days over almost two weeks waiting for police escorts while transporting two loads with his father from Arkansas to California. Mollno says, “California can sometimes do overkill, and turnaround times are horrendous.”

Regulations for oversize loads specify how fast you can run, such as 10 mph below the truck speed limit. As much as possible, oversize haulers prefer to travel on interstates, both for speed and the absence of time-consuming tight turns. When you reach a corner or a sharp turn on a two-lane with a long load, you have to stop, unlock the steerable trailer to maneuver the turn and then lock it back.

It’s often difficult to find a parking place for a load that’s 150 feet or longer, says Eric Larsen, an owner-operator who’s been driving for Joule Yacht Transport for almost eight years. The Piqua, Ohio, resident knows the truck stops and rest areas where he’s likely to find parking.

“It’s hard to get into the IdleAire spots,” he says. “Even buying fuel and getting up to some of the pumps is a problem. With low trailers, if there’s even just a little dip in the driveway, you can get stuck real easily.”

For safety reasons, many states ban evening travel. But you can travel at night in Utah. Same goes for Minnesota, but your oversize load signs must be reflective on the tractor and pilot vehicles.

Road conditions can play havoc with oversize loads. If there’s ice or snow on the road, you can’t go. If there’s fog or visibility under a half-mile, you are prohibited from running. Especially troublesome for long loads are crosswinds that can push a trailer from one lane to the next.

“The transportation department will probably shut the road down before we get into winds high enough to bother us,” says owner-operator Duncombe.

Such situations are just one example of where experience is prized for owner-operators looking to do oversize hauling. Gary Ayers, vice president at Arlington Heavy Hauling in Jacksonville, Fla., looks for owner-operators who have at least a year of verifiable experience transporting machinery or heavy equipment.

Ayers also wants drivers who “aren’t too finicky” about what they haul as opposed to those who are attracted to the way a load looks on their truck or where the load is going.

“We like drivers who have a good understanding of their profit margin and their bottom line,” Ayers says. “Those are drivers who understand you might make more profit on a 300-mile move than you make on a 3,000-mile move, even though the longer move pays more money. Those are guys who are pretty golden, because they might work a regional area and do pretty well at it.”

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