Trucker of the Month
The trailer, a reefer that also functions as a dry van, makes him versatile as an independent, especially when hauling LTL. He can pick up a half-load of refrigerated freight, cap the trailer with a bulkhead and fill the rest with dry freight.
For the first few months under his own authority, Costen shared loads with best friend and fellow independent Kent Keeler.
“In some instances it’s a good thing,” Costen says about working for somebody, “because you may not know enough about the business to do it on your own.” But Keeler says it only took Costen about nine months to learn the ropes. Costen began hauling as an independent when he started Starbuck Enterprises later that year.
Though in leaner times his hard-and-fast rate of $2 per mile has become more flexible, Costen still sets his own standards. Two of the most important: “I still will not drive for less than $1.50 per mile,” he says, and “I will not stay gone for more than two weeks at a time.”
Living by these rules, Costen says he netted about $50,000 last year running from Texas to Mississippi, then to Georgia hauling produce and back home for most weekends in Jacksonville, Ala. Last September, loads that he hauled with refrigerated T2 freight from California to the East Coast helped.
“It’s unpredictable,” Costen says of the pay. But one way to ensure stability is to know several agents and brokers, and he has a long list of people he calls each week.
As an independent, limiting yourself to one broker is “like putting all your eggs in one basket. You’re bound to get in trouble,” he says.
His success also hinges on an accountability that Joanna Wright, an agent for Landstar, says she can take to the bank. “He does not rest until he gets his work done,” she says, noting that he has never delivered one of her loads late. “I guess he’s going to sleep when he’s dead.”
When a broker in Texas he hauled for regularly dropped his rate by one-third last year, Costen stopped driving for him. Three customers Costen lost last year due to disagreements over rates have come back, he says. One had four reefer loads that were delivered too warm in two months by another driver. All four times, the temperature-sensitive foods had spoiled.
“He’ll come back,” he says of the Texas broker. “They always do.” n
Oct. 8, 1966: Born in Brantford, Ontario
1987: Received CDL
1987: Started first trucking job at KW Paving
1998: Moved to Illinois
1999: Began working for Christensen Transport
2000: Leased first truck, a 1999 Peterbilt 379, and became an owner-operator
2004: Gained operating authority
NASCAR RACES at Talladega, Ala., prompted Costen, a native Canadian, to make his home in nearby Jacksonville, Ala. He’s missed only two of the Nascar races held there in the last 10 years. “Everybody sees me there year after year,” Costen says, “and they know the truck.”
HAVING MAINTENANCE skills saves Costen time and money. When a local repair shop told him it would take a day and a half to fix a broken a rear-end gear, Costen bought parts and repaired it in the parking lot. “It took me eight hours,” he says, and he made his delivery on time.