Hotshot trucking: Freight dynamics shifting, payroll loan assistance and more through the pandemic

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Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, hotshotters in Oklahoma and Texas had already been hit with a drop-off in work owed to sinking oil prices brought on by oil production battles between Russia and Saudi Arabia. Around the same time came the sudden economic shutdown, which cut prices even further, along with load demand, among oil companies and supporting businesses.

For Eagle Hot Shot owner Aaron Hammer, it’s all added up to a tough drop in dispatch calls to Texas.

Hotshot 107 in Ohio has had more work than usual according to owner Ben Thompson

“Texas took a really big hit with the price of oil when it started going down about a month ago,” said Hammer, whose business is based in Jenks, Okla. “As soon as oil gets below $40 or $50 a barrel, everybody quits pumping, which means that everyone working in the oil field is out of work and everybody who delivers to them is out of work and anyone who works in the area is out of work because there’s no other freight really. Texas’ biggest commodity is oil.

“We run a lot of stuff out of Oklahoma to Texas normally when oil is good because every time an oil rig goes down it costs them 50 grand a day that it’s not up, so they’ll pay anything to get a part rushed to Texas,” Hammer continued.

With oil field work all but dried up, dispatchers are now calling with loads related to pandemic relief.

“Almost all of the stuff we’re hauling right now is COVID disaster relief stuff,” Hammer said. “We hauled sanitation tanks for companies to make hand sanitizer. We’ve been running those back and forth to the northeast. We hauled a bunch of masks the other day. We hauled some tractor equipment for farms that are growing produce as they try to keep everything stocked.”

Though the work with disaster relief loads is appreciated, it’s a far cry from where the level of business is typically this time of year.

“We have no trucking work locally. None,” Hammer said. “We also own a wrecker service and business is flat dead. Normally we do 20 to 30 cars a day and I think we’re doing three or four cars a day right now because no one’s on the road. Everyone’s working from home.”

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To help keep the doors open, Hammer got a 60-day deferment on loan payments for seven trucks. “That gives me two months where we can sort of operate,” he said. “Even though we’re not really making money at least we’re not having to make truck payments for two months.”

Hammer’s also applied for a federal loan through the Small Business Administration that will cover payroll.

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“As long as you keep your people on the payroll, they’re allowing you to borrow the money for your payroll and you do not have to pay it back so long as you keep your people for six months,” he said.

HotShot 107 founder and CEO Ben Thompson said they’ve seen an uptick in work that’s not directly related to COVID-19 relief efforts. The Ohio-based company offers start-up assistance and dispatch services to small and mid-sized trucking companies.

“Anecdotally, even though we’re not necessarily hauling respirators or things like that, the last two or three weeks have actually been better for us than a typical week,” Thompson said. “We’ve seen an increase in available loads and an increase in some of the rates on the things we’re hauling. A lot of what we haul is steel, light loads of lumber, agricultural equipment, light mechanical industrial components. For us, it’s generally flatbed freight. I would say right now, COVID is more of an indirect thing. We’re just continuing to try to fuel the supply chain and keep industry moving but it’s really not directly related to COVID-19.”

However, the additional work might be.

“Maybe for us so far it’s just been the availability of trucks where some guys may be taking off or getting home or being nervous about the coronavirus,” Thompson said.

When asked if he could use put more to work, Thompson didn’t hesitate.

“We’re always looking for more drivers. I could tell you right now if somebody gave us a thousand more we could keep them all busy. We’re definitely looking for trucks and drivers,” he said.

Indiana-based Wave Express, specializing in hotshot RV hauling, is among some actively recruiting drivers to work a new freight source. Recently, an ad on Sirius XM could be heard asking pickup owners around the country to turn to them for work hauling RVs. A post on their Facebook page explains why:

In these uncertain times, RV transportation has been deemed a necessity. Transporting RVs to different areas in the country to be used at medical facilities for mobile offices, testing facilities, and sleeping quarters has become necessary in the wake of COVID19. Wave Express drivers are right out there on the front lines helping deliver emergency relief trailers to California, Texas, and more. If you want to help, please join today. Orientations are happening each week.