As some of its operators called it quits, 9-truck Hettinger persevered through 2020’s bad rates and new regs

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Updated Jan 11, 2021
Mary Bohl, front, with two Hettinger dispatchers in front of the company’s sign in Drexel, Missouri.Mary Bohl, front, with two Hettinger dispatchers in front of the company’s sign in Drexel, Missouri.

Listeners of NPR or American Public Media on Monday might have heard the voice of Mary Bohl, who in part manages the operations of the nine-truck Hettinger Trucking out of Drexel, Missouri. She spoke to Marketplace reporter Sabri Ben-Achour in a segment Monday (you can listen in the player below) about how the fleet’s adapted to the changes brought by the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse and the impacts the new reg has had on Hettinger’s ability to hire drivers.

In an interview on Tuesday with Overdrive, Bohl shed a little bit more light on the trials the fleet’s worked through in the past year, which includes losing several of its owner-operators when freight and rates soured last spring. “It started in the beginning of the pandemic, with loads paying nothing,” she said. “We couldn’t get them loads that paid enough to even move their truck. They got tired of waiting, and they left. Others just decided they were done being over the road and they were ready to stay home with their families,” she said.

The small fleet started 2020 with 17 trucks and drivers, a mix of owner-operators and company drivers. When the calendar flipped to 2021, that number had fallen to nine. The cause, said Bohl, “was a little bit of everything.”

They’re slowly trying to grow again, with hopes of adding a tenth driver soon, whether it be a company driver or an owner-operator. “We’re definitely doing a lot better than we were six months ago. Our drivers are doing a lot better than they were, also. It hit us pretty hard when the rates dropped.”

Bohl also sees lingering confusion among drivers and owner-operators about the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse, which she also spoke about on Monday’s Marketplace.

“We’ve had to explain it to several drivers,” Bohl said to Overdrive. Most notably, she said, the fact that the Clearinghouse isn’t a public database that anyone can access. Nearly every driver she’s talked to “thinks that anybody can get on there and look at their information,” she said. “But that’s not the way it is.” Drivers’ information is private and can only be accessed if they grant permission to a fleet or consortium to access their information. For drivers who’ve not failed a drug test or committed an alcohol violation, there is no information within the clearinghouse.

This photo from the wall of Hettinger’s headquarters shows three of the company’s independent contractors. The two on the right, Jim Nichols and Justin Nichols, still contract with Hettinger. The operator on the far left has ventured on to become an independent owner-operator, Bohl said.This photo from the wall of Hettinger’s headquarters shows three of the company’s independent contractors. The two on the right, Jim Nichols and Justin Nichols, still contract with Hettinger. The operator on the far left has ventured on to become an independent owner-operator, Bohl said.

“I think the clearinghouse did have something to do with losing some of our drivers,” she said, due in part to the misunderstanding around the privacy of drivers’ information. She thinks the U.S. DOT and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration could have done more to educate drivers about the clearinghouse and its privacy checks, specifically.

Bohl spoke to Overdrive last June about the company’s transition between ELD suppliers, about how she’d spent a year shopping around between various vendors before ultimately outfitting the fleet with the KeepTruckin platform. Read that story here.

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