Trucker of the Month

James Jaillet | July 01, 2010

Down to details

Dan Heister’s meticulous planning and knack for truck mechanics boost his success.

If it has wheels, steel hauler Dan Heister says he can drive it, and he’s never shied away from trying.

Dan Heister uses his ’03 International 9400i to haul cast iron and steel piping around the Southeast and the Midwest. He says of his truck, “Fancy just costs more. I just bought a truck to make money.”

Reared on a grain farm in Iowa, he had plenty of equipment to toy with, and he was driving tractors and pickups before he knew how to ride a bicycle, he says.

He’s also offered impromptu instruction where necessary. In the Army, he taught newcomers how to drive trucks and heavy equipment haulers despite his official role as a helicopter mechanic. In truck driving school in Tennessee, he spent more time helping the other students than he did studying his own materials.

So when it came time to turn his behind-the-wheel dexterity to a career, it was “an easy transition,” says the 44-year-old owner-operator.

He’s ridden his passion to success as an owner-operator, evident in more ways than one. In 2009, Heister received Boyd Bros.’ One Million Safe Miles Award and was nominated for the Truckload Carriers Association Owner-Operator of the Year honor. In 2008, he netted more than $78,000.

Heister enlisted in the Army after he graduated high school. Growing up in a small town in Iowa, he says, jobs were at a premium, and “I was looking for adventure.” He served from 1984 to 1995 as a helicopter mechanic. Heister repaired engines for nearly every type of rotary-wing craft the Army has, he says, including Blackhawk, Cobra and Apache helicopters.

Heister found his home in trucking less than a year after leaving the Army, when he became a company driver for Clanton, Ala.-based Boyd Bros. Transportation, where he’s been ever since.

Over the years, he had the itch to purchase his own truck. “I’d talk about it several times a year, and my wife finally said, ‘Buy one or shut up about it.’” When Boyd Bros. started the Boyd Independent Express for owner-operators, Heister decided that was his cue. He found his 2003 International 9400i south of Nashville in July 2006. He spent a week setting up his new truck, and the week after that he was back on the road as an owner-operator.

Dan Heister and his son take a ride around their yard on Dan’s 1980-model Harley-Davidson. He bought the motorcycle in 1982 and still owns it. His International is in the background.

He says his years in the service taught him two traits he applies daily as he hauls cast iron pipe and steel tubing in the Southeast and Midwest: patience and planning. To maximize revenue, Heister puts more emphasis on a load’s rate than its mileage, since he is paid on percentage of revenue. “Some of my best loads are less than 200 miles,” he says.

To run a successful operation, Heister says, owner-operators have to plan well, budget for the unexpected and stay cool under pressure.

Heister is aggressive with preventive maintenance, says his mechanic, Birmingham, Ala.-based Southern Truck Center owner Tim Walker. “He keeps his eyes on the little things so they don’t get out of hand,” he says. Also, Heister “drives at speeds that optimize his fuel mileage.” strives to maintain an open forum for reader opinions. Click here to read our comment policy.