ELD-exempt (or not) trucking with W. Joel Baker: Inspections, adjustments, bedrock profitability

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Regular Channel 19 readers may recall W. Joel Baker as the reefer-hauling progenitor of the TruckBytes free accounting software, still readily available to owner-ops looking for a basic, simplified accounting system that enables some basic analysis tools as well. Baker and I have crossed paths a few times over the years, and since we last talked in any depth, the one-truck independent has made more than one big change in his operation — and life.

Independent owner-operator W. Joel BakerIndependent owner-operator W. Joel Baker

He’s no longer based in Clarksville, Tenn., just up the road from me, for one — he moved north well into Indiana as a result of another big change, a shift to hauling in the recreational-vehicle delivery business. A good portion of the RV manufacturing industry is, of course, situated in that state. Since we met in person at a warehouse outside Nashville almost 10 years ago, the owner-operator has done much more than truck, too, which you can see plenty evidence of in this post from 2015 Baker wrote about his trucking-intensive training class for returning soldiers he developed as a National Guard Staff Sergeant.

But trucking’s most definitely what we talked about earlier this week, after a recent blog post at his LearntoTruck.com site caught my eye. You might compare and contrast his headline on the piece about his ELD-exempt operation — “Trucking: Never been better!” — with all the gloom-and-doom headlines screaming bloody murder about a driver shortage we’ve been seeing lately (very few of which stories seem to acknowledge the existence of the electronic-logging-device mandate — the ATA and its shortage-PR engine hard at work on the mainstream media). Fact is, for Baker, the double-whammy of constraints on available hours all around trucking and an improving economy have delivered profitability in spades in recent times.

Not that he doesn’t recognize the difficulty of such for some owner-ops who may be newly adjusting to the electronic environment for logs. As noted, Baker trucks in this ELD-exempt 1999 International:

baker & sons truck hauling sportsman campers

His own chief difficulty, though, has been keeping up with his customers’ demand for RV delivery lately, he notes in the podcast, adding thoughts on operational adjustments those who actually have to utilize ELDs might be able to make to enhance profitability as best they can, his own incidence of inspection in the run-up to the mandate (given the target his older truck has newly put on his back, as he sees it — how’s 9 inspections in 11 months sound after previously averaging one a year?), and much more. Take a listen:

Also therein, a case for “form and manner” treatment of ticky-tack hours violations in ELDs, where location data and annotations tell a clear story of a driver’s hours reality, as in Tom Werner’s case I wrote about last week. A little more to think about, though judging by some of the comments under Werner’s story last week, there’s liable to be plenty opinion to the contrary. …

Josh Brown: This is not a legit article on leniency. I really wish it was, but it wasn’t. This driver did not do everything that was required of him to do before DOT looked at his ELD. If he would have made the correct changes, then he would have been fine. Also, remember the only reason DOT even looked at his ELD was due to him speeding.

Ben: Not one simple mistake, but two simple mistakes. First, you broke the speed limit. Second, you screwed up on your log. Truck drivers (like myself) are just doing their job trying to hang in there, just like cops. I wish cops existed only and genuinely for law enforcement (to protect and to serve). Unfortunately nowadays its more like “to protect, to serve, and to clean up financial loose ends of my city.” … Don’t give them a reason to give us a ticket. And slow the truck down! … Take your time, be safe, and maybe the rates might actually increase more to sustain what we do, because they need us!

Stay safe out there this weekend.

(And find a few more shots from owner-operator Baker’s hauls below.)

Baker loads RVs outbound from Indiana to points all around the United States.Baker loads RVs outbound from Indiana to points all around the United States. For return trips, he works with direct customers and brokers as well, hauling a variety of vehicles whose car rates he’s seen rise 60-100 percent since the ELD mandate’s compliance deadlines came and went.For return trips, he works with direct customers and brokers as well, hauling a variety of vehicles whose car rates he’s seen rise 60-100 percent since the ELD mandate’s compliance deadlines came and went. Another example of the kinds of vehicles that hit his deck. Find more from Baker via his LearntoTruck.com website or via TruckBytes.com.Another example of the kinds of vehicles that hit his deck. Find more from Baker via his LearntoTruck.com website or via TruckBytes.com.
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