Domenico Transportation scales Rocky Mountain passes to deliver groceries on tight deadlines under rugged conditions
Victor Domenico says the two biggest challenges facing his trucking company in delivering groceries to ski towns in the Colorado Rocky Mountains are meeting tight deadlines in all kinds of weather and finding skilled drivers who can do the job.
Domenico Transportation moves products from a Denver warehouse to 15 stores in the mountains in two shifts over 20 hours seven days a week. Trailers return with produce such as sweet corn, apples or peaches during the growing season or pallets and empty containers back to the warehouse. “Working the grocery business is extremely demanding with tight time constraints,” says Colorado native Domenico, who drove for years before starting his company 10 years ago with two trucks. “If trucks are late and crews are waiting to unload them, they’re paying overtime. They can’t sell products if they’re sitting on a trailer somewhere.”
The dedicated grocery runs account for 80 percent of Domenico’s business. The rest comes from hauling produce for a Denver company to military bases and plants and flowers for a garden center to South Texas and Louisiana. Domenico is looking at adding longer-haul business within a 600-mile radius of Denver.
Making those deliveries requires what Domenico calls “super truckers, a kind of ice road trucker, who’s not afraid to chain up, not afraid of the mountains, and will take a load at any time. Many talk the game but when you’re on an 8-percent grade, snow and ice are on the ground and wind is blowing in your face, that shakes them out pretty good.”
To help him hire the right drivers, Domenico two years ago introduced a truck-driving simulator to use in pre-employment and in-service training. It simulates various driving conditions, including maneuvering on snow and ice. For drivers employed less than a year, turnover is about 30 percent, he says.
Domenico pays company drivers hourly based on years of service. Rates range from $18.13 to $25.82 an hour. Benefits add another $4.13 an hour. Unless delayed, drivers can make the trip from Denver to the stores in the mountains and back the same day.
To keep trucks moving and help meet deadlines, Domenico equips his all-Kenworth fleet (mostly T800s) with Kenworth’s GPS system and electronic logs. He says the equipment “adds credibility and visibility” to the operations and pays drivers fairly. “It’s helped our on-time percentage,” he adds. Trucks average more than 180,000 miles annually, and he plans to take delivery of five more T800s this year.
The newer trucks are outfitted with wide-base tires and aluminum rims to save weight but the savings is effectively wiped out by an auxiliary power unit to reduce idling and selective catalytic reduction technology and other equipment to reduce emissions. “We try to keep truck weight under 17,000 pounds without fuel when spec’d,” he says.
For maximum mountain traction, Domenico specs a stability control system and Kenworth’s AG400 suspension because it’s dependable on snow and ice. “It keeps tires on the ground,” he says. With other suspensions, “tires can be chained up and they’re still spinning.” The company also outfits sanders in front of the drive tires. A pair of 150-pound tanks contain sand that can be released at the push of a button.
Domenico has been testing Paccar’s new MX engine and has it spec’d for the five trucks scheduled for delivery this year. “It’s lighter, has better fuel economy and has the torque we’re looking for,” he says.
Even running through the mountains, the company’s trucks average around 6.5 mpg and better than 7 mpg on flatter routes to Texas and east.
Affected trucks include model year 2008-2018 Freightliner Cascadia and Western Star 4700, 4900, 5700 and 6900 trucks. DTNA says after hard brake applications, the brake light pressure switch may not activate the brake lights with the light application of the brake pedal.