Kyle Knapp can take a day off in the middle of the week to spend time with his 6-year-old daughter, Hannah, and his 2-year-old son, Seth. “I had a good day yesterday, and I’ll have a good day tomorrow, so I’m taking today to be with my kids,” says Knapp, a second-generation livestock hauler.
Knapp hauls to a packing house about 100 miles away with his 2001 International Eagle 9900ix, a routine he’s enjoyed for 10 years. Some days he makes two trips, some days three, but only a few times a year does he get very far from his wife, Karen, and their home in Madison, Neb.
More owner-operators are choosing, like Knapp, to work close to home rather than
to miss anniversaries or Little League championships. The Overdrive 2002 Owner-Operator Behavior Report shows the percentage of independents whose average haul is less than 100 miles doubled from 1997 to 2001.
“I’ve seen a lot more owner-operators who are regionalizing themselves,” says Louis Capolino, chair of the Truckload Carriers Association’s Driver Recruitment and Retention Panel. “I think they’re finding out that regional and specialized hauling are other sources of good revenue.” Capolino is vice president of Venezia Transport in Royersford, Pa., which has about 400 trucks – 75 of those owner-operator – and more than 70 percent of the 400 run local.
As local companies farm out their driving, owner-operators are picking up the business, says analyst Chris Brady, who wrote the Overdrive report. Brady says most local and regional owner-operators tend to be independents who have dedicated
arrangements with businesses in fields such as construction or logging. By contracting with owner-operators, Brady says, “businesses do not have to invest in equipment, and this will continue as U.S. businesses seek to improve operating efficiencies.”
Common among local haulers are dump operators, the niche Gary Reveal has worked as an owner-operator since 1986. “My dad drove over the road,” Reveal says. “But I didn’t want to be gone from home, so I got into the dump truck business.”
Gerry Egland, chairman of the Washington Trucking Association’s Dump Truck Conference, says a lot of over-the-road haulers have moved into local in Washington and Oregon. “Unfortunately, we’ve had such serious economic problems that we’ve seen both kinds of operations go under,” says Egland, owner of Egland Trucking in Brush Prairie, Wash.
With the economy rebounding nationwide, that could change. “The amount of construction is a very good indicator of how local haulers will be doing,” says Stephen Latin-Kasper, director of market data and research for the National Truck Equipment Association. “And the forecast looks very good.”
Some road construction budgets in larger states reflect that. California’s Gov. Gray Davis has approved $8.7 billion for key transportation projects. Thanks to Gov. Jeb Bush, who added $668 million worth of projects, Florida has a record road construction budget of $2.2 billion. Although New York’s budget has not been approved, $1.75 billion is proposed for road construction, which is the same as last year, and $2.5 billion for normal road maintenance.
Al Hingst, executive vice president of U.S. Xpress’ independent contractor program, believes the need for local and regional haulers is increasing. “I think a lot of shippers are looking for suppliers that are closer, so it makes sense that if suppliers are closer, there are going to be more regional loads to take,” he says. U.S. Xpress has about 100 contractors on its regional board who stay in a 500-mile radius of home and make it there once a week.
Sunco Carriers of Lakeland, Fla., has about 50 trucks that do regional runs within a 250-mile radius of Atlanta, hauling mainly refrigerated foodstuffs. Most of Sunco’s local haulers usually run long haul with other Sunco fleets until a local spot becomes available, says Joe Whitfield, regional vice president. On the downside, Sunco’s local haulers tend to get fewer miles than OTR drivers and often do more loading and unloading. Nevertheless, “We have very little turnover with our local owner-operators,” Whitfield says. “They get home more often, and they get comfortable.”
Kennesaw Transportation of White, Ga., with 150 trucks, is about a third of Sunco’s size, and it’s expanding its regional work. “We just purchased 40 new Pete 387s for our regional division serving the Southeast,” says Ray Hanna of Kennesaw.
Jerry Patterson can spend time with his wife, Gail, and children, Kayla and Jerry, and still drive for a living.
American Central Transport in Liberty, Mo., has about eight owner-operators who haul local and about 20 who run regional, about a 500-mile radius of Kansas City, Mo. “They’re usually out and back in the same day, and they’re home most weekends,” says David Warner, vice president of fleet services.
Many owner-operators choose local hauling to get home not just weekends but every night. Gilles Robichaud of Waltham, Mass., and Jerry Patterson of Ellisville, Miss., are among them.
“I’ve been driving 22 years, and my brothers do OTR, but I just never got into it,” says Robichaud, who comes home every night to his wife, three kids and dog. He drives a 2000 Western Star with a dump bed. “I’m more of a family man than a traveling man.”
Patterson, 26, has been hauling logs locally for about six years and has been an owner-operator for five. “The most important thing for me is being home every night,” says Patterson, whose daughter, Kayla, is 6, and whose son, Jerry III, is 18 months. “I have plenty of time on the road, but I also have plenty of family time.”
There are more advantages to local hauling than being home more often.
“Whenever I go somewhere in the city, I see structures and roads that I participated in,” says Robert Boccasini, who hauls construction materials around New York City in his 2001 Peterbilt 357. Boccasini owns five dump trucks with his brother, Michael. Their father, Jack, helped haul materials to build the World Trade Center. “It was so weird to be pulling the wreckage out of there,” says Boccasini, who helped with the cleanup after Sept. 11.
Dale Wright of Oakwood, Ohio, has been driving almost 40 years, and hauling local since 1993. “I like being in bed every night,” says Wright, who has two trucks leased to B.A. Miller & Sons. “But I also make more money hauling local than ever.”
Wright says other advantages are being able to plan his maintenance and never having a flat on an unfamiliar road. Plus, his expenses are way down because he doesn’t burn as much fuel and he can eat meals at home.
Warner of American Central Transport says local and regional hauling is also great if you own older equipment because you’re not putting as many miles on it, and you’re always close to parts and maintenance services you trust.
Whether local hauling improves your business or your personal life – or both – it is one way to enjoy the basics of trucking without some of the difficulties of long-haul work.
Robert Boccasini hauls construction materials around New York City.
SUCCESS = ELBOW GREASE + CUSTOMER RELATIONS
Nights in your own bed. Dinners with your family. Showers in your own bathroom. So, how do you get that gig?
Well, it’s not just a matter of clicking your heels, closing your eyes and chanting, “There’s no place like home,” as Dorothy did in The Wizard of Oz. You have to do homework beforehand and hard work once you get there.
“I think it’s harder work than OTR, a lot more,” says Gary Reveal, who hauls construction materials in a 19-foot East aluminum dump pulled by his 2001 Peterbilt 357. Compared to driving over the road, you have to work your way into more places that are hard to get into, and you have to pay more attention to your surroundings, he says. For example, “If you’re dumping into an asphalt paver, you have to know when to raise and when to lower,” Reveal says.
Al Hingst of U.S. Xpress agrees you have to work a little harder at local and regional. “Instead of one or two loads a week, you can have 15,” Hingst says. “We basically look for elite drivers for this group because we can’t afford service failures or late deliveries. We make it almost mandatory to have forced dispatch.” You also have to develop strong customer relationships because you will probably load or unload with them often, and you have to keep a good reputation.
“You have to take as good care of your customers as you can, and they’ll take care of you,” says Kyle Knapp, who hauls for cattle producers. “You need to be able to work with them all. Take care of the small guy as much as the big guy if you want to make it.”
“Your name and your background are all you have in this business,” says Robert Boccasini, who does construction hauling in New York City. “We may charge a little more than some haulers in town, but our customers don’t mind paying it because they know we’re going to be there every day and get the job done.” Boccasini emphasizes the importance of making contacts and being personable. “A friend of ours introduced us to a friend of his, and that guy would use one of our trucks every once in a while. Now, he uses three of our trucks frequently.”
Gilles Robichaud has been driving local construction jobs for more than 16 years. “It may look easy, but do your homework,” he says. “Getting a truck is pretty easy, but a lot of people realize after a few years that it’s a tough business. If you know a lot of people, you’ll do all right, and you have to be a people person and a go-getter.”
Part of Robichaud’s strategy for making connections is to keep moving around with companies. “If I go with an asphalt company, I’m usually only there for a few years. I don’t like to stay with a company for too long because you lose outside connections.”
Boccasini does a lot of publicly funded work: helping resurface old roads, building curbs and sidewalks, hauling away reprocessed materials, and salting roadways. Getting permission to work for the city and state, though, has been no small task.
“They check through all of your paperwork to make sure you’re keeping good records, and they check your payroll stubs,” Boccasini says. “And being paid by the city, you have to watch your cash flow because it takes 90 days to pay. It’s definitely not easy, and it’s more involved than OTR, but I love it.”
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