In the hustle and bustle of trucking industry news, the singular nature of what some truck drivers tote behind their tractors often is forgotten. A large component of the industry has nothing to do with general freight, after all, and the dynamic nature of so many hauls can be absolutely exciting.
In the following mini-features you’ll find several profiles of unique loads and their no-less-unique drivers, from living cargo to one of the biggest, treacherous heavy hauls we’ve seen.
Drivers play critical role in saving a species
By Todd Dills
Sea turtles eggs and hatchlings
FedEx Custom Critical operator Bob Reddick is thinking of hanging an emblem of a turtle in a child’s car seat on the side of his 2008 Freightliner 2500CRD sprinter van, contracted to FedEx Custom Critical. He spent the greater part of July and August on a once-in-a-lifetime series of hauls, part of a two-truck team helping transport loggerhead sea turtle eggs from nests on the Gulf of Mexico to Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. When they hatched there, he then worked with U.S. Fish & Wildlife reps to move them to the agency’s site in Jacksonville, Fla., for later release into the Atlantic. Through it all, he says, “we exercised the kind of care that is required to protect those in car seats.”
FedEx came to be the transport primary in the emergency operation, embarked upon when the Fish & Wildlife Service determined the oil-polluted environment in the Gulf would be too toxic for endangered sea turtle hatchlings, by virtue of the Custom Critical division’s reputation for specialized transport solutions, says FedEx media relations representative Deborah Willig. The company’s willingness to donate time to the project certainly helped. At the end of August, “the project has just wrapped up,” she added, and the company had helped in transporting “270 nests — 14,000 hatchlings have been released into the Atlantic with a week to three weeks of hatching to go.”
In the Mercedes-Benz diesel-powered van he typically runs solo in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, the Stafford, Va.-based Reddick fed specially palletized and cooler-packaged eggs “mostly from Gulf Shores, Ala.,” he says, to a larger tractor-trailer unit operated by Ron and Margaret-Mary Shellito, of South Carolina. Both rigs were temperature-controlled at 85 degrees, cargo palletized with specially designed skids with pneumatic bumpers to lessen road shocks.
Each pallet could well accommodate six coolers, held in slots, containing turtle eggs (about the diameter of two quarters side by side) and/or hatchlings (the size of business card). “Each cooler might have 30 to 60 hatchlings,” says Reddick of the haul from Cape Canaveral to Jacksonville at the other end.
How the eggs are handled will determine whether the embryos live, and slight variations in temperature play a role in the eventual turtle’s gender.
In the third week of August, as oil levels in the Gulf were deemed safe for turtle hatchling release, Reddick says he was able to participate directly in a beach release at Port St. Joe, Fla. “That was an adventure,” he says. “The herding turtles expression really fits. They come out when we release them and take them out and put them on the sand. They orient themselves by the light of the stars or the moon. You need to not have any other light around.”
Reddick describes the turtles as majestic animals. “They claw their way out of the nest up to the surface of the beach, find their way down to the water and are constantly repulsed by the waves — it was very interesting and uplifting to see them making their way down to the water.”
Team drivers Ron and Margaret-Mary Shellito, have more than 26 years of experience with FedEx Custom Critical and more than 8 million combined safe miles. They were the lead drive team transporting endangered sea turtle eggs from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean coast for release. “If you’re able in your life to do something where you’re able to help save a species,” Ron said, “it’s something that makes you feel that you’re doing something worthwhile for the country and for the world.”
‘UNUSUAL’ IS EXPEDITER’S ‘NORMAL’
Phil Madsen, owner-operator of a straight Volvo VNL Class 8 with a 132-inch ARI sleeper and 16-foot cargo box (leased to FedEx Custom Critical’s White Glove Services unit), has transported pieces of the Hubbell Space Telescope back from the outer limits (after they’ve landed) to a NASA maintenance facility. He’s transported a cheese display from a Wisconsin producer’s facility to Bentonville, Ark., where he and his team-driving wife, Diane, wheeled the display into a hotel room where the company would attempt to sell Wal-Mart executives on their product.
In short, for the Madsens, your unusual or strange is actually quite run-of-the-mill.
Two loads in particular stand out in Phil Madsen’s mind. In July 2004, the Madsens hauled an industrial water pump from Southern California to a gold mine in Southwest Oregon. “The consignee met us there and, with his pickup truck, led us on logging roads nine miles deep into a national forest,” Madsen says. “When the roads stopped, a large front-end loader met us to pick up the freight [pictured] and drive it several miles deeper into the forest.”
After unloading, “crewmen told us we could spend the night in the woods if we wanted and pointed to a mountain stream nearby where the water was good to drink. We though we’d stumbled into a pretty good deal. Turn the truck key on, and we are working. Turn it off, and we’re camping!”
In June 2005, a local move in West Palm Beach, Fla., saw the Madsens pick up an operating table — “We went into a hospital operating room and wheeled” the table out, Phil Madsen says — and secure and move it to another hospital in town, fairly nearby. “We thought about the patient,” he adds, who would be “on the table in the morning, but it is a safe bet the patient and hospital staff gave no thought at all to how that table got there for them to use,” yet another example of trucking’s critical importance in the background of American life.
Even on Alaska’s famous Dalton Highway, some loads stand out
400,000-lb. diesel production module
By Todd Dills
“It’s a piece of cake.” Or so says Carey Hall, Carlile Transportation driver on the Dalton Highway in Alaska, of a production module he and an additional three drivers in push trucks toted from Flowline Corp.’s Fairbanks manufacturing facility “all the way to the end of the haul road” in Dead Horse, then 15 miles out to the “Z Pad” diesel-refining-equipment staging area west of Prudhoe Bay. Hall, featured in a couple different heavy-haul segments of the Ice Road Truckers TV series this season, is used to all manner of big hauls, but this one was one of the “biggest we’ve done so far,” he says.
The load measured 20 feet in width and height and 78 feet in length. It weighed in at more than 400,000 for a GVW of 428,000, including the 2005 Kenworth T800 Hall drives. The push trucks, two additional T800s and a 2008 W900, would normally function as tractors, but for this operation and others like it get modified with a flat deck that fits to the fifth wheel and is then bolted to the frame. A 30,000-lb. concrete-filled sheet-metal block is then loaded onto each deck to help give good loaded traction to the drives up the unpaved road through mountainous Alaska.
“They each have push bumpers,” Hall says, “with rubber mounted on the steel to give it some cushion up there. It softens the blows as you hook up, and the rubber keeps you from sliding off.”
Practically, he says, a push driver making a proper connection to the rig ahead should be able to take his/her hands off the wheel even around turns, as a good push will steer itself according to the lead vehicle’s lateral movements. Not that anyone’s doing anything so risky. Hall downplays the danger, but you need only to consider the time taken on this haul to realize the difficulties Carlile drivers dealt with here.
On the first two days of the total six, Hall says, with about 17 hours of driving time, the team averaged 12 mph.
And on some of the big downhill runs, the team will move one of the push trucks to the front and tie all to the main rig with cables for safety. And in the wintertime, when snow and ice hamper movement on the haul road, the team will use four extra pushers and “tie all four trucks to go downhill,” Hall says.
‘Hershey Bar’ totes famed two-wheelers with 18
Lance’s famous bikes
By Max Kvidera
Lance Armstrong’s bicycles have carried him to a record-setting seven Tour de France titles. Owner-operator H. Wade Gordon, who is known in the trucking industry as “Hershey Bar,” transported Armstrong’s expensive bikes used in one of the racer’s fund-raising events.
Gordon says the shipment from a Miami convention center to a Philadelphia-area warehouse included 15 of the racer’s ultra-lightweight bikes and lighting equipment. The entire load took up only about 20 feet inside his specially outfitted 53-foot trailer. It required a full day to wrap and load the shipment.
Gordon, an Alabama-based trucker for 26 years, specializes in hands-on pad-wrap loads. He says he took extra care to make sure the equipment in this case was packed and loaded properly. He triple-pad-wrapped the bikes and secured each with three giant rubber bands. “I had to be careful strapping them because they’re so light you could bend them with the straps,” he says. “During the trip I stopped several times to make sure they were riding good.
“My claim to fame is I’ve never had a freight claim. I’m so careful. No matter what I’m hauling, these people pay good money, and you’ve got to go beyond the normal. You want to make sure those people’s property is protected, and when you get to the other end, you want to make sure they’re taking as much caution unloading as I did in hauling it. It’s all about customer service.”
Other marks on Gordon’s résumé include a load of full-size copies of the Wright Brothers airplane delivered to a museum. A recent load was two 4-foot-long cherry wood bars on wheels delivered to the Non-Commissioned Officers Club at the U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, S.C.
Gordon’s 1999 vintage trailer is equipped with interior lighting, a step deck to ease access into the trailer, a ramp underneath and wraps and gear to handle any kind of high-maintenance haul. The trailer’s original wood floors have been sanded, varnished and shellacked to a brilliant shine to provide a better environment for transporting valuable cargo.
After selling his tractor and trailer to work in a venture servicing auxiliary power unit generators that was shut down after a couple years, Gordon re-entered trucking with the help of a gift. Truckers and entertainers Ron and Dianne Smith — known as “Snuffy and Granny” — gave their 2000 Freightliner Classic to him when they won a 2009 truck in a truck show contest last year.
Trucker is all abuzz with tiny cargo that plays vital role in agriculture
By Max Kvidera
Owner-operator Ron Meuchel pays a painful price for the special loads he carries. In the 14 years he’s been transporting honeybees, he estimates he’s been stung tens of thousands of times. “When I say I got stung, I don’t get their full shot,” he explains. “You’ll feel it, but you don’t get the full shot. When a stinger stings you, it pulsates, putting the venom in you. You scratch the stinger to remove it.”
To protect himself, Meuchel (pronounced Michael) wears a long-sleeved shirt, a beekeeper’s jacket with veil that covers his neck and head, jeans, steel-toed boots and welder’s gloves with Velcro wrapped around his wrists. Despite that, he figures he was stung more than 300 times on his last trip. “They were so crawly and so mean, and it was so hot out,” he recalls.
Meuchel, leased to East River Lumber & Grain of Mobridge, S.D., hauls beehives for a handful of Florida beekeepers in the spring and fall. In February he’ll drive the bees from Florida to California to pollinate almond trees. After four to six weeks, he’ll load them up for the return trip to Florida. In April he’ll transport bees north to Michigan and Wisconsin to pollinate crops and generate honey flow. Around Halloween, he begins hauling the buzzers back south to winter in Florida and replenish the colonies.
Hauling bees long distances is a delicate, stressful ordeal for driver and passengers. On his springtime runs north, Meuchel will begin loading the beehives on his 48-foot closed tandem trailer in the late afternoon when it’s cooler. The bees are agitated by the heat, so Meuchel will use a smoking device to calm them down. Once under way, he’ll stop a single time to let his dogs out and grab a brief lunch. “If it’s still warm or muggy, I might water them down,” he says. Once the sun goes down, he can finally relax a bit. He tries to park away from other vehicles and people.
Though an occasional pain in the neck — or ear or eyebrow — bee hauling pays off. Meuchel says it accounts for about 10 percent of his loads but 30 percent of his revenue. He averages about $2.50 per mile with the bees.
Meuchel closely monitors his hours and logbook. “Hauling bees you want to make sure your logbook and truck are in good shape,” he says. “The last thing you want is a breakdown.”
Owner-operator helps relocate Manhattan diner to the South
Manhattan’s Cheyenne Diner
By Todd Dills
Over the past 15 years, Mel Brandt, owner-operator of M&M Rigging of Lancaster, Pa., has become the go-to guy for a series of extremely unusual loads in historic northeast diners rescued from demolition by investor-refurbishers of various stripes. “In 15 or 16 years,” Brandt says, he and a team of other Pennsylvania-based owner-operators he calls on for the loads, have “moved 150 to 200 of them.”
One of his longer diner hauls happened in late September last year, after Birmingham, Ala.-based businessman Joel Owens bought the 24-hour Cheyenne Diner on Manhattan’s West Side at Ninth Ave. and W. 33rd St. and made plans to restore it to its 1940s-era classic vintage and reopen it in his home city. The diner had closed after more than 60 years of serving tourists, cabbies and the occasional celebrity.
“Mel, well, he’s the only one that moves these big diners,” says Patti Miller, Owens’ Media Relations director on the project, adding that there was never any question as to who would do the job.
“I guess we bought a [cabover Mack] to haul farm products,” Brandt says of how he got into the trucking business back in the 1970s. Pretty soon, construction equipment was finding its way onto the company deck trailers. “Then one day a guy called and wanted to know if we could jack up a diner for him. I told him no. ‘Your buddy said you could do it, and he’s too busy,’” the man, Steve Harwin of Diversified Diners, told him. Brandt still said no.
But Harwin was persistent. “The next day he calls back and says, ‘Your buddy says you could borrow his equipment,’” Brandt says. “We did the job. A month or two later he called back and said he had another one to do…” And so M&M’s legacy was beginning.
Brandt, with a team of about six, typically jacks a building off its foundation, inserting steel beams under the building to then move the structure on the steel beams across rollers to get it securely onto a trailer. In the case of the Cheyenne, the diner was moved in two sections, the first staged in New Jersey as the second one was loaded.
Other parts of the puzzle took more time. “With the Cheyenne, because we were in Manhattan,” Brandt says, “they were so hard to deal with for permits.” All told, two weeks or more went by as various city departments argued with one another about who should have authority on the move before, finally, the transport department took charge.
After staging a couple more days in Jersey obtaining permits for the haul to Alabama, Brandt drove the lead truck on the haul, his 2001 International 9900 Eagle, with which he today transports mostly oversize loads across the country. The second section was hauled by another owner-operator. As Brandt puts it, “When we go to do diners, I have several guys who have their own businesses. This is a way to get away and do something else for a change. They’ve learned to appreciate it, and enjoy it.”
In short, they’re proving true an old maxim: There is joy in hard work — some, anyway.
Fleet Specializes in Bringing Tropical Fish to the Masses
By James Jaillet
Michael Most and his fleet of 60 trucks haul live tropical and exotic freshwater fish from around the world nationwide for PetSmart. Most says the fish are flown into California and Florida, where they’re either transported to a large distribution center in Phoenix, smaller distribution centers around the country or directly to retail stores.
The fish are stowed individually in plastic bags in an air and water mix. The individual bags are packed into Styrofoam containers and cardboard boxes and shrink-wrapped to pallets. Most says a load consists of roughly 20,000 fish, moved in a refrigerated unit at 72 degrees. Temperature control is important, he says, and any variation could cause the fish to die.
“It requires constant checking of the refrigeration unit,” he says, “and even though your reefer says 72 degrees, you have to actually check the boxes with a temperature gun to make sure they are the right temperature. Any rise or drastic fall will kill the fish.”
The hauls are time-sensitive as well — the fish generally can only survive about 24 hours while being transported, thus many loads are driven by teams, Most says. “It’s a little nerve-racking. You have a real tight set of guidelines of where you need to be and what time you need to be there. If you’re not there, you lost a very high-profile or expensive load.”
He picked up the gig several years ago while hauling live fish for a company in Phoenix. When he decided to leave, Most says PetSmart gave him the opportunity to buy his own truck and run fish for them. Now, his company, Michael Most Trucking, is responsible for hauling all of the company’s fish out of the Phoenix distribution center.
The company hauls loads of fish every day of the week, Most says, generally from Phoenix to Corpus Christi, Texas; McGowan, Texas; Denver and Seattle to regional distribution centers.
An owner-operator has been sentenced to life in prison for his role in ...