Business savvy


Tilden Curl says owner-operators need to crunch the numbers on the road to success

Tilden Curl is on a mission. The owner-operator wants to help truckers understand what it takes to succeed in the industry. He hopes to educate drivers who crave independence about how to prosper.

Tilden Curl runs his own equipment to pull profitable loads on the Interstate 5 corridor from Washington to Southern California.

“My goal is to be a crusader in this industry and see if I can help elevate the awareness of the needs in the industry and the concerns,” says the owner of Tecco Trucking of Olympia, Wash.

Curl has been driving for almost 20 years and running under his own authority for about 12. He’s driven the Interstate 5 corridor from Washington state to Southern California for 14 years. He runs a 2009 Kenworth T660 and pulls a 2003 stepdeck trailer.

Curl, 53, talked with us about trucking, running a business and how to do more than survive. Here are some of his comments.

Think like a business owner

When you buy a truck you are no longer a truck driver — you’re a small businessman. We have many drivers out here who are excellent truck drivers, but they’re not worth a darn at business. If you’re not a businessperson or not willing to learn the tenets of a good trucking business — the expenses and income — you can’t adequately judge what you’re doing.

Know your costs

You have to know what it costs to run your truck and your business. That’s where most operators fall short, because they don’t analyze the cost of owning and maintaining a truck and depreciation on a per-mile and per-month basis.

I decided I could own my 2009 truck with those payments cheaper than I could own my [previous] 1995 Peterbilt with its higher maintenance costs and more time off the road for repairs.

Get a $5 calculator and wear it out until you know what your costs are.

Also, operators need to factor in their home costs and what’s reasonable to expect from their job. Most drivers fall short of that. [Most] don’t have adequate health care and insurance. There’s also that retirement thing that for most truck drivers is so elusive. Few drivers ever achieve the ability to have an adequate retirement.


Keeping track of the numbers

I don’t do all my own books. My wife Lesli and I work together — she does the bookkeeping, billing and the accounting, but those are all systems I set up.

Choosing your loads

Don’t operate if you don’t make money. Don’t pay somebody to haul their freight. There’s a lot of freight paying 85 cents a mile. If your operating costs are $1.35, you’re paying somebody 45-50 cents a mile to carry their freight. Instead, deadhead home — it’s less wear and tear and you’re doing your part to support a responsible freight market.


Low freight rates

People complain how freight rates are low, but most brokered freight is based on a yearly contract. The rate doesn’t go down because demand [to carry] loads goes up. It only goes down if you’re willing to settle for it.

If I’m going to go broke I’m going to do it in my own driveway.

Why I stick with the I-5 corridor

The Los Angeles area is about two days from home. I can load, drive two days, unload, reload, drive two days, and I’m at my 70 hours to take time off at home. I eat home cooking, sleep in my own bed and can unload and then take 34 hours off. It exponentially improves my home time.

Benefits of working two markets

There’s a lot more money working two markets — one close to home and one that’s two to 2.5 days away. People start to recognize you, and they’ll call you to deliver freight.

Developing customers

People say I’m lucky because I have my own customers. I’m fortunate because I had to work my butt off to get them. Customer accounts carry me south to Los Angeles and cover 80 percent of my loads coming home. That freight going south pays the bills running the truck for the round trip. Loads coming north pay for health care, retirement, mortgage and savings.

Where to find business

Look around your home base and see what items are being shipped and how you can fit in the puzzle. Items I haul from here are infrastructure items. There is demand for those year-round, whether in a good or bad economy. And there’s going to be huge demand to rebuild our infrastructure in coming years.

Information sources

If you’re going to do this as a business, you need to sort out where you’re going to get your information. Qualify the information you get. Just because someone says you can run a truck for a buck a mile doesn’t mean it’s true.

I only take advice from people who have done what I want to do. You have to find your own niche and what works for you.



Tilden Curl was selected the Goodyear 2010 North America Highway Hero for helping save the lives of two people before their car was struck by a train.

Tilden Curl was named the 2010 Goodyear Highway Hero.

Curl was driving on Highway 99 near Tulare, Calif., when a vehicle went out of control and came to a stop on railroad tracks. Curl checked on the car and saw a train was coming. A woman exited the car, and Curl yelled for her to get clear of the tracks.

The driver was unconscious and trapped inside. Curl unfastened the man’s seatbelt and dragged him away seconds before the train slammed the vehicle.