Sitting tight

FAMILY: Wife, Gianina; three children
RIG: 1996 Freightliner Classic
CAREER: 26 years
FREIGHT: Lumber, aluminum
STATUS: Independent
INCOME: $47,000

For years, independent OWNER- operator Chuck Raub strapped lumber to his flatbed with a method he considered slightly ineffective. He hooked his standard 4-inch yellow Kinedyne straps to the passenger side of the trailer and then pulled them taut with the built-in ratchets.

The Easton, Pa., resident says he could never tighten the ratchets enough around a load of plywood, his most frequent load. Like other truckers faced with the same dilemma, Raub wedged 2-by-4s to fill the space between the load and his straps. Yet Raub still worried he might lose a load or have one shift while making deliveries in east Pennsylvania.

That concern led to invention, and now Raub never worries about losing a load under his self-created device. “I couldn’t find anything out there that works to tighten these straps to the level I need them tightened,” Raub says. “This idea just hit me one day. It’s so simple.”

Raub’s invention, which increases leverage on the traditional ratchets, is simple. Its details also are a secret, at least until Raub can obtain a patent or find a buyer at a major strap manufacturer.

“I have guys offering to buy this from me all the time,” Raub says. “Without a tool like this, you can only get straps hand-tight. It’s absolutely necessary to do my job.”

Raub has been driving for 26 years, 11 of those as an owner-operator. His father and uncles also drove trucks, exposing him to trucking at a young age. Most of Raub’s driving has been local, allowing him to spend more time with his children, Jeffery, 27, Gary, 20, and Jessica, 17, and his wife, Gianina. Having his own authority, Raub says, gives him the flexibility to choose his work.

For years Raub ran six trucks hauling fuel oil in the winter. He added flatbeds so he could haul lumber during the summer, when demand fell for fuel oil. Eventually he sold his fuel oil business and began hauling lumber year-round for Foulk Warehousing of Pennsylvania as a one-truck operation.

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“He’s one of the best drivers I’ve had working for me,” owner Allen Foulk says. “He gets a lot done. I always blamed that on him having kids in college.”

Raub’s work ethic is matched by his approach to sales. When he ran six trucks, Raub often would call on a company many times before getting its business, proving that persistence is essential to being a successful independent.

A client called after Raub had been hauling for him for a few months. “He said, ‘You guys really do a good job for me,'” Raub says. “When I was pursuing his business – for eight months – that’s what I told him we’d do every time I called him.”

One company Raub cultivated and hauled for when he ran his fleet was Pilot Travel Centers. “I’m not afraid to go out and canvas new work when needed.”

Still, being an independent isn’t always easy. Raub sold his fleet and fuel oil business because good drivers were hard to find and insurance payments became a challenge, he says.

“Rates have stabilized for the past 10 years and have not kept pace with operating costs,” he says. “I cope with this by being very selective regarding the products and rates I’ll accept.”

He also does most of his own maintenance on his tractor and trailer, reducing downtime and costs, though he recently had someone else overhaul his 10-year-old rig. “I’m capable of doing oil changes, lights, brakes, radiators and water pumps,” Raub says. “It helps keep costs down. I can do a brake job over the weekend and still be able to haul loads during the week. If I took it to someone else on Friday, I might not be able to roll on Monday.”

Before Raub quotes a rate or accepts a load, he learns the price of fuel and estimates his round-trip mileage and his other expenses for the trip, such as tolls. He won’t take a load that doesn’t make sense.

Raub is able to park his Cat-powered 1996 Freightliner Classic in one of Foulk’s rented warehouses on the old Bethlehem Steel property a few miles from his home on the Lehigh River.

At the warehouse on a recent cold morning, Raub was using his invention to tighten a load of plywood headed for local lumberyards. In a few minutes the load was ready for delivery.

A local welder helped him fabricate the tool, which also works with 2-inch straps in applications beyond trucking. He’s now working with a company that helps patent and market inventions to get his prototype into production. He’s had little interest from strap makers, which haven’t seen the invention at work. Once companies see it, they’ll understand the need immediately, Raub says.

“I don’t care how many 2-inch straps you have on there, you’ll always need more because you can’t get the straps tight enough without having proper tools. You’re just waiting for a problem to happen.”

FAVORITE THING ABOUT TRUCKING: I enjoy the independence. I like the challenge of having to think on my own. I enjoy what I do. I get up in the morning and say, “Hey, I get to go to work today.” I’m proud of what I do.

IF YOU WEREN’T TRUCKING: I can’t imagine doing anything else.

MOTTO: Make sure you pay yourself before you pay anyone else.