Previously in this series: Independence basics: Binda Atwal’s attractions to trucking
Mintu Pandher’s 78-year-old father is a professor of history today in Colorado, where the father brought his family in the late 1990s, following the wave of Sikh migration from India that got into full swing in the 1980s after the assassination of Indira Ghandi and subsequent Sikh-targeted mob violence.
Following school, Pandher got behind the wheel of a truck running intrastate hazmat as an owner-operator when he was 22, in 2003. He hauled fuel out of Fort Morgan, Colo., where he lived, for a relative who owned a gas station, working six-seven hours a day during the week, more full-time on the weekends.
In 2008, Pandher followed the growth in oil drilling into independence as Akal Energy, growing fairly quickly over several years with contracts with some fuel providers, running out of his current home base of Laramie, Wyo. “A Sapp Bros. district manager was a friend of mine,” he says of his first big customer. He “hauled fuel between Wyoming and North Dakota” and states around the area, through the oil boom of those years. “Then in Wyoming we started getting into” U.S. defense department supply, still “all tanker, all fuel” to DOD locations.
Over those years, with Pandher hauling himself throughout, the fleet grew to nine trucks, where it sits today. “The money was good” through the boom, he says. “It seems like every six months we were adding a new truck and trailer. We’ve slowed down a little – sometimes you were making $10 a mile back then. The thing is that the people that were paying that, they were drilling like there was no tomorrow. North Dakota was a happening place back then. It was a pretty good deal.”
Six years ago in the midst of all of that, he also purchased the truck stop in Laramie at exit 290 on I-80. The Akal Travel Center as it stands today sits on 28 acres with more than 200 truck parking spots – and is the result of an extensive remodel he put it through after the purchase.
The fleet’s trucks are all Peterbilts, all 389s, a few of them gliders. “All our trucks are blue and orange,” he says, team colors of the Denver Broncos. “We’re big fans.” Akal Energy employs 10 drivers all told, none of them other than Pandher himself from the Sikh community. He hauls in a blue 2016 389, which was on hand on Constitution Avenue on days two and three of the October ELD protests in Washington, D.C.
Pandher sees the ELD mandate as the kind of government imposition many immigrant communities in the United States came here to get away from, particularly those from areas with repressive governments in Latin American, Eastern Europe and Asia.