Florida gas hauler brings industry conversation to truckers’ iPhones
It’s not every day a driver finds himself at the center of a burgeoning cultural movement, but such is the case for Aubrey “Allen” Smith, a 30-year veteran of the trucking industry, most of that time spent as an owner-operator running household goods long-haul.
Smith is an on-call hauler for Florida-based Pipeline Transportation, pulling gas tankers in a daycab between Tampa and Ocala. His part-time status has run parallel to a growing business and personal quest, which today has Smith and his wife, Donna, a medical lab researcher, standing at the nexus of technology and media as it relates to a growing community of drivers concerned about the state of the industry.
Smith traces the origins of that quest to a conversation overheard in a Kansas truckstop. “This guy was talking on the phone,” Smith says, “and he was worried. He couldn’t make his truck payment” and feared losing his home. Smith had heard this sort of story many times. So many, in fact, that he tended to put others’ problems “out of my mind,” he says. But at that moment he determined to do something to help.
He set about penning a book, The Truth About Trucking, to give new drivers the hard facts about training, the on-road lifestyle and business entry. In 2003, he began offering it to readers via TruthAboutTrucking.com in e-book form, and as attention to it slowly rose, he took note of many requests for audio versions and CD-ROMs and also launched askthetrucker.com to provide readers an avenue for their questions to his and others’ years of experience. Smith’s call-in radio show has been a going concern since late last year, too: BlogTalkRadio.com/TruthAboutTrucking. Recent shows have taken on driver-training schools, union trucking, lease agreements for owner-operators and more with expert guests, including drivers, from all sides of every issue.
Perhaps his most ambitious project became a reality in March. He and Donna are the proud parents of the first resource iPhone application designed specifically with truck drivers in mind. The Trucker app, $.99 via www.truckerapp.com, aggregates Smith’s educational and media pursuits with social and business networking functions, user-provided content and other outside resources in a central location for iPhone users.
Ken Sneed, of InfoMediaInc, a company started by Web marketing guru Joel Comm and the developer the Smiths worked with on the iPhone app, says The Trucker represents new ground broken in their business. The company approached the app with a mind toward making it a prototype for other small-business customers, not their normal clientele. “We’re big in the celebrity industry,” he says. The Smiths were likewise unique in that, while business-building was certainly an ancillary concern, the idea behind The Trucker app had more to do with furthering progress toward Allen’s goal of bringing solid information to truckers – and connecting them around issues important to all – than marketing.
“The industry has really been in the news a lot lately,” Smith says. “The general public is getting drawn into it.” He cites response to last year’s fuel spike and recent rest-area closings in Virginia and elsewhere as examples of what he sees as a burgeoning grassroots activism among drivers, haulers coming together around issues to the betterment of the industry. “You don’t see a lot of that, where we’re all coming together,” Smith says, and he wants to at least help make it a more frequent occurrence. “Hopefully we’re playing a small part in that, raising awareness and bringing people together.”
Note of Hope: FedEx expedited owner-operator Phil Madsen (in a team with his wife, Diane), featured in these pages in Carolyn Magner’s “When the Road Is Home” cover story in March 2008, offered a down-and-dirty perspective on the freight slowdown in April via his blog (at successfulexpediters.com. He and Diane hauled 25 percent fewer loads for a gross revenue down 25 percent in the first quarter of this year, he wrote. “In other words, the freight slowdown is not only continuing, but the decline is accelerating. Last year’s 20-percent decline has given way to [the first] quarter’s 25-percent decline. Looking around to see what else is going on, the news is not encouraging. Container ships are stacking up on ports around the world.