One independent’s comeback from the brink: A run with Ted Bowers

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Ted-Bowers-2005-Peterbilt-379-lightsI had the rare opportunity the day of the Super Tuesday primaries to make part of a run with Kingston, Tenn.-based Ted Bowers, owner of the small trucking company that bears his name. We didn’t talk politics much, as you can hear in the podcast in this post, but rather took a run through the challenges Bowers has faced in the recent and more distant past — health issues that brought on excess debt, for one, that was solved with help from a part-time accountant he hired on after providence brought the two together when the flatbedder was hauling out of Olympic Metals in Loudon, Tenn. A great friend and business partner to this day, Teresa Coffey dealt with creditors, he says, by establishing weekly profit targets for the then-leased owner-operator and his old Walmart fleet truck of a cabover International, putting together payment plans with the creditors, and so much more.

Bowers’ prior 1998 International cabover, a former Walmart fleet truck.Bowers’ prior 1998 International cabover, a former Walmart fleet truck.

The story, among others, is a testament to what you can do with the right partners in the business — Bowers has re-established his authority today after that episode, and he’s the owner not just of the 2005 Peterbilt 379 he drive himself but another truck, driven by Jim Mass, who operates much like an independent would, taking care of most issues himself both with the truck and the loads he hauls through Greeneville, Tenn.-based Everhart Transportation’s brokerage.

Our run loaded in Knoxville, Tenn., near Bowers home base — scarcely 3,300 lbs. of stainless tubing from Morris Coupling bound for the Oskaloosa, Iowa, facility of Cablevey Conveyors, makers of tubular-drag conveyor systems for agricultural applications.

I jumped on here in Nashville and spent the next several hours with Bowers in his Cat C15-powered custom stretched Pete up I-24 and I-57 well into Illinois. From there, Bowers would take it on up to unload the following day, then as usual with this regular round would either run a brokered load from Centerville, Iowa, or deadhead to East Chicago, Ind., to pick Ryerson steel, one of his regular accounts, back South toward home.

He makes the round every two weeks, he says, one of a couple different regular runs he’s managed to put together the last several years for, last year, an average $2.18/mile revenue for all miles.

Ride along for a bit of the in-cab conversation we had in the podcast here, and find more via the pictures that follow.

My involvement in the run began in the rain amid unseasonably warm temps at the downtown Nashville TravelCenters of America location at I-24 and James Robertson Parkway/Main Street, where Bowers' 2005 379/'09 Reitnouer combo is shown here pulled up to the fuel isle.My involvement in the run began in the rain amid unseasonably warm temps at the downtown Nashville TravelCenters of America location at I-24 and James Robertson Parkway/Main Street, where Bowers' 2005 379/'09 Reitnouer combo is shown here pulled up to the fuel isle.

With well more than a million miles in the rearview behind it, the Caterpillar C15 in the Peterbilt this day was just weeks away from some planned downtime for what Bowers says will be its first major overhaul with Cat's Platinum overhaul kit. At the same time, Bowers is scheduling some repainting work of the entire exterior of the truck, brake work and more -- near $30K worth of an investment for (hopefully, he says) another million miles. Follow this link to read more about some of the recent mods to the Pete, including the stretch by Jamestown, Tenn.-based Ronnie King.With well more than a million miles in the rearview behind it, the Caterpillar C15 in the Peterbilt this day was just weeks away from some planned downtime for what Bowers says will be its first major overhaul with Cat's Platinum overhaul kit. At the same time, Bowers is scheduling some repainting work of the entire exterior of the truck, brake work and more -- near $30K worth of an investment for (hopefully, he says) another million miles. Follow this link to read more about some of the recent mods to the Pete, including the stretch by Jamestown, Tenn.-based Ronnie King.

Always something, isn't it? Always ...Always something, isn't it? Always ...

Truck On Highway In Rain From Cab View

The first of two scales we passed along the route -- little activity hapenning, as it were, at this location just into Kentucky on I-24.The first of two scales we passed along the route -- little activity hapenning, as it were, at this location just into Kentucky on I-24.

'Not a great place to be broken down,' Bowers quipped on the way out of the Kentucky weigh station. The next scale, along the route in Illinois, would be closed to all traffic."Not a great place to be broken down," Bowers quipped on the way out of the Kentucky weigh station. The next scale, along the route in Illinois, would be closed to all traffic.

Ted Bowers Driving

A stop at a Love's for a quick break and a sandwich yielded talk of falling fuel prices and worry over a major economic slowdown on the horizon. Rates, at this very moment, Bowers said, echoing many an owner-operator lately, were among chief concerns -- falling fuel could account for some of the downward pressure overall, and Bowers averaged respectable revenue for all miles last year. But at once, he said, more and more competition seemed to be jumping back into business with low-fuel forecasts and sending rates farther down. He's given a little himself recently, with at least one customer, to keep an account.A stop at a Love's for a quick break and a sandwich yielded talk of falling fuel prices and worry over a major economic slowdown on the horizon. Rates, at this very moment, Bowers said, echoing many an owner-operator lately, were among chief concerns -- falling fuel could account for some of the downward pressure overall, and Bowers averaged respectable revenue for all miles last year. But at once, he said, more and more competition seemed to be jumping back into business with low-fuel forecasts and sending rates farther down. He's given a little himself recently, with at least one customer, to keep an account.

View of the back of Bowers' Reitnouer and the Vango kit, parked after a brief bit of truck-stop traffic jam getting into this spot.View of the back of Bowers' Reitnouer and the Vango kit, parked after a brief bit of truck-stop traffic jam getting into this spot.

The view through Bowers' 'picture window between these two doors,' as he calls the ever-changing vista from his principal place of business.The view through Bowers' "picture window between these two doors," as he calls the ever-changing vista from his principal place of business.

Last stop -- the Walmart parking lot in Mt. Vernon, Ill., where in spite of the No Truck Parking signs the store staff seem accommodating of big rigs, Bowers says, and judging by the numerous rigs taking refuge there late in the afternoon I'd say he's right. It's a common stop on this run for the presence of a Ryan's steakhouse at the edge of the lot. Several hours north from Nashville, it's winter again.Last stop -- the Walmart parking lot in Mt. Vernon, Ill., where in spite of the No Truck Parking signs the store staff seem accommodating of big rigs, Bowers says, and judging by the numerous rigs taking refuge there late in the afternoon I'd say he's right. It's a common stop on this run for the presence of a Ryan's steakhouse at the edge of the lot. Several hours north from Nashville, it's winter again.

Ted Bowers Poor Mans Winter Front

'Poor man's winter front,' Bowers quips."Poor man's winter front," Bowers quips.

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