Trucker of the Month

For owner-operator Dennis Hastings, trucking is a lot like training horses. “You get out of it what you put into it,” says 45 year-old Hastings, who trains and breeds horses on his 40-acre ranch in Wyandotte, Okla. “If you don’t take care of a horse or a truck, it won’t take care of you.”

Hastings, Con-way Truckload’s Contractor of the Month twice in seven years, says 14 years on the road have taught him how to turn the expenses of preventive maintenance into profit. “The main part of making sure that this business is profitable is fuel mileage,” he says. Running slower and using fuel additives are two ways Hastings claims he saves nearly $20,000 a year. He declined to give his net income.

“If I run around 62 or 63 mph, that can save me over six months up to $6,000,” he says. “I try to run a little slower than traffic, so I have distance in front and behind me. I never run in a pack.”

Hastings, who is nearing two million miles in his career, uses synthetic engine oils because, he says, “you get a longer life for your engine, gears and drivetrain,” Another bonus of synthetic oils for him is that they don’t thicken in cold weather. Winter maintenance is especially critical to him because it’s one of his favorite times to drive.
“I like the challenges of winter driving,” he says. “There’s just something about it that’s exciting for me.” He uses a cetane boost additive and cold-flow improver during winter months to improve diesel combustion and to keep fuel from gelling.

The additives, according to Hastings, are an essential part of his maintenance routine. Hastings buys fuel additive by the drum and uses it every time he fills up. “It makes the fuel burn cleaner and keeps your injector and engine parts clean,” he says. “Normally you would change the filter after 10,000 to 12,000 miles max, but with the additive I can get up to 35,000 miles. It costs more to buy it up front, but it costs less in the long run because of the benefits to the engine and the lasting power,” he says, adding that his savings due to engine care can reach up to $12,000 a year.

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Hastings tracks these savings and his expenses monthly: “I keep my books and my computer with me on the road.”

He hauls general freight in a dry van his truck pulls through 48 states. His availability to run that freight is important, he says, adding that the complaining he hears from some drivers is often unnecessary.

“A lot of times if there’s not anything good, it’s better to take the short run and let them make it up on the other end,” he says. “We have to trust our dispatchers and work with them.”

Con-way dispatcher Kane Brooks explains that Hastings rarely turns down a load. “He’s a team player,” Brooks says, adding that Hastings can afford to take shorter hauls when necessary because of his expertise on fuel mileage and routing. “His goal is to get from point A to point B; he doesn’t mess around with it,” Brooks says.

Hastings’ trucking savvy isn’t the only trait that distinguishes him, in Brooks’ view: “His focus and attention to detail make him a successful owner-operator, but on top of all that he’s just a really nice guy.”

Frank Davis, Hastings’ driving instructor at Crowder College in Neosho, Mo., agrees with Brooks. “He’s honest; he’s a hard worker and he’s just a fantastic guy,” Davis says. “He takes it to heart, his job.” Davis met Hastings in 1995 when he enrolled in the truck driving program at Crowder soon after he left Edison Plastic in McAllister, Okla..

Since Davis taught Hastings the ropes of truck driving, the two have remained close friends and riding buddies. Hastings even trained some of Davis’ horses. “He’s a real good cowboy,” Davis says. “We’ve cattle-pinned and everything else when we’ve had time.”

“To train a horse you have to spend a lot of time with it,” Hastings says, time he doesn’t normally have with his full trucking schedule. Yet, he says, “with horses you really have to be patient. Patience is also a big deal in trucking.”

Tolerance of other drivers is incredibly important on the road, he says. “A lot of drivers, not just truckers, don’t think when they drive, but it does us no good to retaliate with obscene gestures or bad driving,” Hastings says. “We need to act like professionals.”
The Rev. Joe Oswalt, pastor of The Bible Missionary Church in Neosho, Mo., says Hastings’ patience comes from his compassion and faith. “Dennis is one of the laymen who has elected to kind of start a church here,” Oswalt says. “In other words, he wants to be a faithful leader here.” He notes that Hastings “fills a lot of hats” as a truck driver, family man and reliable community leader.

Hastings enjoys the challenges of those roles. “I’d like to keep doing what I’m doing,” he says.

Trucker trivia

HUNTING AND FISHING are hobbies Hastings enjoys, and hauling through the Northwest lets him scout for new locations. “I like to get ideas of where I can come back and hunt,” he says. “As for fishing, I do fish when I can along the way.”

HASTINGS DOUBLED his ranch property by purchasing a second 40-acre tract near Wyandotte, Okla. He is designing a barn for the property. “What I’d like to do is set up a place there where we could teach young guys and gals how to ride,” he says.