Bigger is Better

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Trucker: Roger Hobrle, 62, of Niles, Ill.

Family: Sue Hobrle, wife

Truck: 1989 Peterbilt 379

Career: Driving for more than 40 years, an owner-operator for 17 years

Freight: Heavy machinery, beams, and steel coils on flatbeds, stretch trailers and dropdecks

Accident free: 40 years

Income: $55,000+

Roger Hobrle is happy being oversize and overweight – when driving, that is. The 62-year-old owner-operator from Niles, Ill., requests difficult freight from his dispatcher. He usually gets what he wants.

“Everything I do is specialty,” Hobrle says. “Everything is oversize, stretched out and big.” Hobrle hauls things such as beams, pedestrian bridges, giant transformers, cranes, storage tanks, machinery and concrete culverts on his 11 specialty trailers, including two stretch trailers that extend to 75 feet. He also has two four-axle lowboys, two regular flatbeds and two vans. Sometimes his loads gross more than 100,000 pounds. He has also hauled loads that are 120 feet long.

“Only the high loads scare me. Weight doesn’t scare me,” he says. As a safety precaution, Hobrle always measures his loads before leaving the shipping yard. He also takes a picture of his loads to protect himself from cargo claims.

“Every time you see an accident, you’re glad it’s not you, and you hope you’re not next,” he says.

For 12 years, Hobrle has been leased to Brandt Trucking, a 75-owner-operator, 10-company-truck fleet in Ambridge, Pa. Ron Crumm, the dispatcher, has known Hobrle for 32 years.
“We like Roger because he has his own specialized equipment and the customers request him,” Crumm says.

With his equipment, solid reputation with shippers and knack for handling difficult freight, Hobrle appears to be well-positioned to start his own small fleet of specialty haulers or to gain his own authority, but he never has.

“The trouble is that you hire drivers who don’t know how to handle the load,” he says. “I feel that with only one truck, you can’t be the driver, salesman and everything else. It’s worth it to take home only a percentage of the load.”

In his arrangement with Brandt Trucking, Hobrle pays his own equipment insurance and licensing fees. He also buys oversize and overweight permits in some states, but he charges the cost of permits and escorts back to the shipper. Brandt pays the cargo insurance.
Because Hobrle is paid 80 percent of each load, he is very selective of what he accepts. “I hate the words ‘haul it for fuel,'” he says. To avoid deadhead, he waits until his dispatcher secures a backhaul before accepting outbound freight.

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“The key is to drive no miles for big money instead of lots of miles for no money,” Hobrle says.

When he’s not trucking, Hobrle spends his vacation time at one of three places: his home in Niles, his cabin in Minnesota – especially during the fishing and hunting seasons – or his house in Groveland, Fla.

First truck: Ford single-axle.

How I got started in trucking: My father owned trucks, and I lived on a farm. I owned my first car when I was 10. I’ve been driving semis since I was 15.

Favorite load: Something you don’t have to tarp that pays well.

Least favorite load: Steel coils. I’ve hauled thousands of them, but I hate it.

Most unusual load: A 120-foot beam on a stretch trailer. With the truck, I was 140 feet long.

Unusual places I have hauled: Different towns that strike you in the middle of nowhere like Tyrone, Pa. I always tell people that your tour bus won’t go in the areas I go.

Favorite area to drive in: Midwest to South.

Worst thing about being a trucker: Low rates. Working for nothing most of the time. We don’t get paid to sit. Some guys do, but flatbed haulers don’t.

Favorite music: Country western.

Favorite movie: The Sting, with Robert Redford.

Pets: Cat. Its name is Cat. Everybody thought he was a female, so we started calling him Alice. I took him to the vet one day and found out the cat was a male. From then on, we just called him Cat.

Best thing about being a trucker: Freedom of seeing the country and the different seasons and climates. Every mile is different.

How I met my wife: We went to high school together.

Keys to a good marriage: Take her with me when she wants to come. She’s like a kid in the candy store. Everything is interesting to her. It’s a pleasure to have her come along. She can find beauty in a cornfield in Iowa.

Favorite food: Pork chops and real mashed potatoes. When I go in a restaurant, I ask if they’re real or phony.

Least favorite food: Artichokes.

Pet Peeve:People who don’t use common sense.

Favorite shipper: Not really anyone in particular. The ones that treat you like a human being.

Dream job: I’m going to be a weatherman. Right or wrong, you get paid good money. And the funnier you are, the more you get paid.

What I would like to be remembered for: Everybody is on my case about my smoking. If Kennedy can have an eternal flame, I can have eternal smoke coming from my tomb.

Do you know an exemplary owner-operator with 15 years of trucking experience and an excellent safety record? Write to Laura Crackel, Overdrive Editorial, P.O. Box 3187, Tuscaloosa, AL 35403 or [email protected].