With a new OTR gig, independent trucker Bob Van Liew finds a fresh start in COVID shake-up

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Updated Jul 9, 2020

In recent months, Overdrive has talked with dozens of owner-operators and small fleet owners about their experiences amid the COVID-19 pandemic and associated economic downturn. Over the coming weeks, we’re checking back in with many of them to see how they’re faring as the economy slowly begins climbing back.

Bob Van Liew and his 2006 Freightliner Columbia. He and wife Jan own and operate Vans Logistics.Bob Van Liew and his 2006 Freightliner Columbia. He and wife Jan own and operate Vans Logistics.

After a turbulent few months, owner-operator Bob Van Liew of one-truck Van’s Logistics, which he operates with his wife, Jan, has landed squarely on his feet, due in no small part to he and Jan grinding through the tougher weeks and months of late.

In April, in one interview with Jan, she said the couple’s hope was waning. That was just as Bob’s steady work hauling paper products regionally had faded, and he’d leased his 2006 Freightliner Columbia to another carrier, Minnesota-based Manning Transfer, despite having run under his own authority over the past decade. It was also just as the first round of Paycheck Protection Program funds, which many owner-operators and small fleets sought to help bridge through the collapse, was running dry, and the couple’s application landed in a big pile of others.

Bob and Jan Van LiewBob and Jan Van Liew

Now? “Frankly, we’re better off now than we were when it all started. But it was a struggle,” he said. He and Jan were able to secure a PPP loan in the aid program’s second round of funding. The couple’s also taking home more pay, though that has come with trade-offs, too. Bob used to be home every night after making daily out-and-back hauls totaling about 350 miles.

When I talked to him this week, he’d just finished up more than 30 days away from home, running from Washington, to Minnesota, to Texas and then back west.

“This is new to me,” he said. “I’m still getting used to it. But it’s been a blessing.” Manning just secured a few new contracts, mostly out West, Bob said, and he’ll soon start working dedicated routes that get him home every two weeks. He plans to stick with the company, too, and the 62-year-old won’t hang up the keys anytime soon. “I like to stay busy,” he said. “I want to [drive] until 70 — at least.”

Comments from Bob and Jan Van Liew appeared in these stories from April and May:

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