Different Day, Different Truck

Joe Bockenstette and his wife Leslie have been doing driveaway for several years and enjoy the variety it offers.

Joe Bockenstette describes himself as a wildcat owner-operator. After all, he drives Class 8 trucks and delivers goods. He owns his own truck and trailer – a 3/-ton pickup and a steel hydraulic lift trailer.

Conventional, it’s not. But neither is his over-the-road operation.

The Norman, Okla., resident is an independent driveaway contractor. This basically means he transfers commercial trucks from one location to another. His “freight” is whatever he is driving and/or towing.

Driveaway, or towaway as it is sometimes called, is a trucking job that fits Joe’s strong work ethic and love of the open road. “It’s a business that I like,” he says. “I like working for myself. I don’t mind hard work, but I don’t really know how to work for someone else.”

Driveaway Lifestyle
Driveaway encompasses a myriad of operations ranging from the transport of new to nearly new lease trucks to repos and everything in between. Some operations have standing contracts with fleets or truck manufacturers while others rely mainly on orders that come from various types of companies or individuals who need something moved.

Almost all driveaway companies use independent contractors. Drivers range from full-time professionals with their own equipment setups to semi-retired individuals who supplement their income with part-time work.

Some driveaway drivers move only one truck at a time, known in the business as singles, while others transport doubles. Some dabble in driving automobiles and RVs on the side, which is another branch of the driveaway family.

Joe is like most other driveaway drivers. He likes the adventure of never driving the same piece of equipment twice. He likes the challenges of moving trucks that are sometimes in less-than-top condition. And he loves the fact that his wife and business partner, Leslie Bockenstette, works with him, transporting her own set of double Class 8 trucks.

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Being independent driveaway contractors has allowed them the luxury of choosing what they want to haul and when. “One of the advantages of this job is no forced dispatch,” Leslie says.

“It’s the only driving job that my wife or I would consider doing,” Joe says. “We can travel, work out of doors, see the country from the vantage point of 7 feet off the ground, go from ocean to ocean in a two-week period and stop and see all of our nine children while being paid to do it.”

David Soest, who transports doubles while his wife drives singles, was drawn to driveaway because of the freedom it affords him. “I can take off any time I want,” says the St. Louis resident, who is leased to J&J Driveaway of Overland Park, Kan. “We went to Niagara Falls recently on a run. You couldn’t get in most places with a big truck, but we’re able to go where we want with our personal vehicle.”

Ron Ray, who lives in Leesville, La., chose driveaway as a second career because he was looking for a job in trucking that wasn’t volatile. “I wanted a niche that had upturns but was recession-proof,” he says. There’s always plenty of work. “I sometimes stay out six weeks and go home for week,” Ray says. “This past summer was good for me. I stayed out from the middle of July to the middle of October. Then I took two weeks off.”

Among the downsides of driveaway operations for doubles are pretrip preparations. “The first thing I tell a driver is if you don’t want to work outside or pull a ‘flatbed,’ this job is not for you,” Ray says. “It’s hot and sweaty in summer and cold in the winter. It’s not for everybody, but it is for a driver who likes variety.”

Soest, who uses a boom to connect the two tractors he’s transporting, says he got hooking up down to a science. “The worst thing is the weather,” he says. But I can hook up the boom in an hour and tear down in an hour. I’m tied up for a couple of hours at most.”

Joe takes a more philosophical look at the business. “You can get as much out of driveaway as you put into it,” he says. “This is not a no-touch freight kind of job. You can make good money if you don’t mind working for it.”

And money is a big draw to driveaway. Some driveaway companies pay as much as 60 cents per mile for singles and $1.10 per mile for doubles. In most instances the driver’s only on-the-road expenses are fuel, food, transportation to and from pick up and delivery in the case of singles or the upkeep of towing equipment (including the contractor’s personal vehicle) when transporting doubles.

“Many of our drivers make an excellent living and enjoy a higher level of freedom than other (commercial) drivers,” says Angela Summers, president of Driveaway USA of Lee’s Summit, Mo. The company moves almost anything that rolls from utility crane trucks to beverage trucks. “We have men and women who feed families doing this job.”

In the case of driveaway contractors who specialize in singles and rely upon various means of transportation to get from job to job, resourcefulness is the key to making money.

“Money management is a must for any professional business,” Summers says. “Planning is a must. They have to have their return trips planned ahead of time. And they have to be resourceful.”

Dr. Tom Woddle jacks up a J.B. Hunt cabover in order to hook up the front axle brakes.

When it comes to transporting doubles, drivers with their own towing setup can easily gross more than $100,000 a year with more time off than the over-the-road driver. Driveaway drivers claim the earning potential compared to the average owner-operator is higher because of the lesser operating costs. “I don’t have a new truck payment to make,” Joe says. “I’m an owner-operator who buys only fuel, and my only other real expense is my pickup and the trailer I put the vehicle on.”

Pilots to Chiropractors
Independent contractors come to driveaway from diverse backgrounds and for many reasons. For some drivers, it’s a second career. Of the 120 full-time and part-time contractors leased to Driveaway USA, Summers says some are semi-retired truckers who missed being on the road.

It was a period of extreme hardships that brought the Bockenstettes to driveaway on a permanent basis. Joe, who holds a degree in mechanical engineering, spent more than 30 years as a crop duster before beginning a second career in trucking. He worked as a company driver hauling produce. But when the company refused to pay him for several weeks work, Joe says, he hit rock bottom. He and Leslie found themselves in dire financial trouble.

“We were living below the poverty level,” says Leslie. “We were living in this old trailer, our phone had been cut off and we had a negative balance in our checking account.”

That’s when someone told Joe about Coldiron Specialized Driveaway Company of Oklahoma City. Leslie was skeptical because Joe had once worked for another driveaway company that moved him from doubles to singles – essentially cutting his pay in half. Joe says he was told he was being moved because of his age. “We had no money, and Joe came in with this pipe dream,” she says.

With cautious optimism, Joe started down a new career path in 1998. He leased on with Coldiron, which had just started a doubles operation paying 91 cents to $1.10 per mile. He used a Walker wrecker boom to connect the two tractors and towed his 3/4-ton pickup behind the second truck.

“Within six months all our bills were paid and we had money in the bank,” Leslie says.
In recent years, Leslie has become an integral part of the business operation, and Joe has become an enterprising designer of a unique trailer on which he carries his pickup (See “Asphalt Inspiration” on page 21). Leslie uses a telescopic boom that her husband invented to move doubles. Joe and Leslie transport for Coldiron and Dealer’s Choice of Kansas City, Mo.

Frustration with his current job led Dr. Tom Woddle of Fort Worth, Texas, to driveaway trucking. He spent 20 years in the Navy before becoming a licensed chiropractor. Troubled by the legal issues in insurance claims work, a friend talked him into delivering a truck.

He was soon hooked on the profession. He purchased one of Joe’s trailers to get into doing doubles. “I had a Texas commercial driver’s license,” he says. “I grew up around trucking because my dad hauled sand and gravel. I like driveaway because you can make a decent living.”

Woddle, who has recently been transporting trucks to ports for shipment to foreign countries, sees himself in driveaway for at least another two years. “I may get back into chiropractics in the future,” he says. “I have thought about doing mobile chiropractics, maybe going from truckstop to truckstop.”

Ron Ray was a heavy equipment operator in the mining industry for 30 years before health problems forced him to look for other work. He drove for a small trucking company for a while, then went to work for J.B. Hunt. He soon ran into a driveaway driver who piqued his interested in the job.

In 2002, he leased on with Coldiron, where he transported singles before buying one of Joe’s trailers in order to increase his income by doing doubles.

Soest was in the garage door business before he started doing driveaway three years ago. Because of his flexible schedule, he occasionally takes off to help his dad and brother in garage door work.

“Joe warned me that one thing people say is if a guy can’t do anything else, he can do driveaway,” says Ray.

Some driveaway contactors feel they lack the respect of other OTR drivers. Others say they’re often questioned about the job by drivers who are both curious and skeptical. Soest finds other owner-operators he meets are often surprised at the rate of pay of driveaway operations. “Some of the drivers I meet don’t consider us real truckers, but I wouldn’t trade this to make truck payments at 85 cents per mile,” says Soest.

But all the driveaway drivers say they take time to explain the job in a professional manner when asked. “I never try to brag about pay or anything else,” says Woddle. “When someone asked me about what I do, I try to present another aspect of trucking; we’re moving trucks, and they’re moving freight. We all have a job to do.”

Most driveaway companies have high standards for hiring and retention. Summers says a strict hiring process leads to relatively low driver turnover at her company. “We put a lot of trust in the drivers we hire,” Summers says. “Out of every 10 applicants we get and do background checks on, we’ll probably hire five, and three out of that five hired will be with us for more than three years.”

Because the driveaway industry is so diverse and segmented, there is no official association of driveaway companies or its drivers. But Summers has made attempts in the past to form an association to foster more respect for the industry. “I tried to spearhead an association because of the nature of industry,” she says. “My goal is to educate, lobby and bring a level of professionalism that’s not there at the moment.”

Despite no official affiliation, many driveaway drivers are close-knit and proud of the services they provide. “I take a job and deliver my trucks and try to satisfy my customers,” Ray says. “Like any driver, I’m the person the customer sees. And making sure the customer is satisfied is my top priority.”

Joe Bockenstette shows how he can do a groundless transfer with the Mark II Trailer he designed.

Asphalt Inspiration
Scary incident spurs driveaway contractor to design new transport system

Editor’s note: The following is Joe Bockenstette’s firsthand account of how he came to design and build the Mark II Trailer and Model 15×3 Telescoping Transport Boom, both of which are used by several driveaway contractors to transport two tractors at the same time. With partner Ed Rubac, he has formed Rapid Hook Transportation Systems Inc. to produce these two products.

The worst day of my life (or maybe the best) found me sitting on the center white dotted line just south of the 152 mile marker on the soundbound side of Interstate 35 in Oklahoma, listening to the sound of tires squealing on the asphalt. I was facing south and wasn’t sure that I really wanted to look over my shoulder and see if the vehicles were all going to stop.

I had been doing driveaway for about two years. Driveaway means that the commodity that I am delivering is the truck itself. That is what has caused me to be sitting in the middle of the road on that bright fall afternoon with brakes locking up and tires making their presence known and me contemplating if I have the right stuff to stay with this job.

Back in August of 1998 I went to work for Coldiron Specialized Driveaway in Oklahoma City. I used my 3/4-ton Ford Diesel pickup to carry my wreck boom and all the different hookups to attach my pickup to the back of the second tractor. Coldiron had just started doing doubles. This means that I used the wrecker boom to connect the two tractors back to back. Later that year I retired my wrecker boom and built my first transport boom with the financing help of Phil Coldiron.

Sometimes I would do only a single move. I had the necessary hitch to connect my pickup to the back of the tractor. I put as many miles on my pickup as I put on the tractor, plus the deadhead to the next job. The mileage adds up real fast when you go from coast to coast every week.

In late September of 1999 I had been sent to Miami to pick up two trucks. I knew that I had a problem about 100 miles north of Miami on I-95 when my pickup’s diesel engine started making strange noises and producing blue smoke. I got to Miami and found my trucks, checked them out, signed for them and hooked up. I dropped my tow bar on the ball on the back tractor and turned off the pickup’s engine. That was the last time it ever ran. I think it swallowed a valve or split a piston. Something went clunk, and that was it.

The tractors that I picked up were repos and, therefore, were in some questionable condition. I gave them both a good inspection because I was going to be traveling some 1,500 miles to deliver in Kansas City, Mo. I never thought about the possibility that someone had taken off the front tires and put others of lesser quality on. Someone did, and I didn’t know to retorque the studs after 100 miles. Just west of St. Louis around the 175 mile marker on I-70, I had the privilege of watching a tire and wheel come off the rear truck. That was scary, watching it bounce through oncoming traffic. I called my dispatch, and they had a wreck sent for the second truck. After the wreck driver arrived, we went hunting for the miscreant tire and wheel. It had run for about half a mile before coming to a stop 12 feet inside an abandoned mobile home. I unhooked my boom, hooked the pickup to the lead tractor and continued to Kansas City.

After making the delivery, my dispatch found me another truck some two blocks away, and I changed the hitch and hooked up to the next truck, which was going to Oklahoma City. This would get my broken-down pickup home. Boy, did I have an interesting ride home.

Somewhere north of the 152-mile marker on I-35, the ball coupler came off the ball on the back of the tractor. The safety chains did their job and kept the pickup behind the tractor. I am not sure how far the pickup was pulled by the chains, but the coupler was ground half through from being pulled on the ground.

I finally saw the pickup was not acting right in the rear view mirror and pulled over to check things out. After coming to a stop on the shoulder, I set the parking brake and felt a jolt from the rear. The jolt was the electrical cable being jerked free of the pickup connect.
I jumped from the tractor and went running after the pickup, which was heading into traffic. I had locked the door and had to get the keys out of my pocket, find the right one, unlock the door and get in to put on the brake. I finally got the door open and was standing on the running board when my foot slipped off and I found myself falling under the pickup. I threw myself out the door, landed on my left side and rolled to the center line. I sat up in time to watch my pickup roll through incoming traffic and eventually into the river. That’s when I heard the screech of tires. After about two lifetimes, the noise stopped and I looked north to see that I had shut down both lanes of I-35.

Later my wife and I returned with my wrecker boom to get my pickup back home. While all this was going on, I was thinking of ways to do this job without towing the pickup. The only answer to my problem was to carry the pickup on the tractors being delivered. I looked into putting the pickup on the rear tractor. That would not work because of the excessive weight the pickup would put on the rear truck. Putting it on the front truck was the only way. My idea for a transport boom and a device to load and carry the pickup was born.

Being a pilot, an aircraft mechanic, an engineer and having designed both heavy equipment and equipment for the aviation industry, I decided to do the job somehow.

I began to collect data from each setup I loaded. I would start by running my hookup through a scale. Then I would take measurements. I took measurements for the next two years and thought and thought and sketched and figured some more.

A company in Oklahoma City, Hendershot Tool Company, had done some machine work and welding for me in the past. I went to the company’s president Ed Rubac with my drawings and pitched the idea for a telescoping transport boom. He thought the idea was a good one and would fit in well with what the company does. After the pieces were ordered and the machining was completed, they informed me that I could come and set up the boom. I told Ed that I could come in after the next run and do the boom. Little did I know that the boom would not be built until much later.

I was in Kenosha, Wis., when I met up with another Coldiron driveaway driver, Richard Degneau. We were swapping tales about the different states that didn’t like the pickup being towed behind the last tractor. We told each other what we had in mind for fixing the problem. Both of us came to the same conclusion.

Some time down the road, when I got the money and time, I would build some kind of trailer for me to use. That all came to an end two weeks later in Toole, Utah, when I met up with Richard again. We started talking about my trailer idea. Out of the blue came the question from Richard, “Where do you want the check sent and whom do I make it out to for a trailer?” I immediately called Ed and told him about the development. About a week later, the deal was finalized. Richard would be the owner of the first and prototype trailer made by Rapid Hook Transportation Systems Inc. Meanwhile, the transport boom was placed on the back burner, not to be revived for almost two years.

In June of 2001, I started on the trailer prototype. Three weeks later, we were ready for the first hookup. The first load was without the pickup. We loaded two cabovers and took them from our shop to the yard at Coldiron. Everything went fine. Boy was I in for a rude shock in just two weeks.

Richard arrived to learn how to load and unload the trailer. This was a learning experience for both of us. We loaded the trailer, put the pickup on it and backed the lead tractor under the front kingpin. The trailer loaded just like it was supposed to. The only difficulty was in the logistics of what had to be removed from the pickup before you put it five feet in the air.

The first corner in the yard went well. The corner going from the driveway to the street went well. Richard was driving, and I was following in my pickup. We got to a light at I-35 and crossed over a bridge, and Richard turned left onto a north service road. That’s where it went to hell.

The rear truck went to the right and dropped the trailer axle on the ground on the right side, leaving the trailer doglegged with back tractor. I thought Richard was going to lose the pickup and bend the trailer right in two. We dropped the trailer down, and he drove the truck forward to straighten out the whole thing. That worked, and we drove back to the shop to see what was wrong.

The problem turned out to be a minor one. The way the carry chains were installed had to be changed. After this was accomplished, we had no more problems with the hookup. Considering the complexity of this project, having only one problem, I feel that having spent two years thinking and figuring how to do it was worth it all.

The design of the trailer allows a driver to pull a single or do a double move. The trailer is a completely self-contained transport system. A driver can load 40 miles from nowhere. If a driver has two trucks to deliver and two more to pick up at the same location, he doesn’t even have to remove the pickup from the trailer. He can do a groundless transfer. This takes about 45 minutes. The normal loading time is from one to two hours.

The fourth trailer I built is owned by a man who has a handicap sign hanging from the mirror in his pickup. He is legally disabled and can still hook up and deliver with the Mark II trailer. My wife can load a double with the trailer and make a good living. It doesn’t take a lot of strength to do this job with this trailer.

By the way, the boom did get finished. My wife uses the boom to transport two tractors. The boom is carried on the trailer and together we move four tractors. I knew that boom would come in handy some day.

I had an idea. If I hadn’t been sitting on that dotted line in the road, I might never have gotten the project off the ground. Listening to the squeal of tires was a big wakeup call.