Get ready for the downturn -- it's always right around the corner: Top owner-op's best advice for the next generation

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Updated Sep 20, 2022

In this Part 2 edition of the Overdrive Radio podcast featuring conversations with Owner-Operator of the Year Glen Horack, the Missouri-based hauler elaborates on themes of preparation broached in Part 1. Asked for his most salient advice for any new or aspiring owner in this day and age, he made reference to the grand cyclical nature of the economy -- and trucking specifically of course.

In other words, what goes up must come down. 

The owner-operator, leased with his 2022 Peterbilt 579 to Springfield, Missouri-headquartered Prime Inc., was speaking in June and noted market dynamics then evident that suggested to him the turn was either at hand or right around the corner.  

Through Prime's driver app, "they send us a message every day as to what fuel's going to do at midnight," he said. At that time in June when we talked, he noted diesel had been occasionally going "down for one or two days. Then it'll go up the next five days or so in a row. And it'll go up much quicker than it'll go down."

With that he laughed at the end of it, one of those kinds of chuckles you might have to let fly to keep from crying. 

Howes logoOverdrive Radio is made possible with the support of Howes. Find out about their diesel additives, lubricants and more via HowesProducts.comGet ready, build your cash reserves, however you do it -- and before you get in business, he emphasized for those new to trucking.

"Don't try to operate on a shoestring," Horack said.

Sooner or later, he added, with a big downturn typical for freight markets about every 10 years, if not more frequently, odds are you'll need that nest egg: Take a listen:  

Also in the podcast: 

  • Owner-operator Horack today teams with his wife, Karla, whose acumen for cooking in the truck has enabled the pair run a lean operation, not just in the financial sense. Karla’s cooking methods and recipes are diverse, yet her in-cab cooking equipment is just a single, quite versatile piece.
  • The Horacks are no doubt looking forward to enjoying some time at home with family and friends next weekend as the 9th Annual Sam Biggs Memorial Bike Show and Poker Run, a benefit to research into childhood cancers, is set for Sept. 10, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at American Legion Post 639, 2660 S. Scenic Ave. in Springfield, Missouri. Glen is a cofounder of the event, with its brainchild owner-operator Thomas Miller. Miller's a fellow past Owner-Operator of the Year you can read much more about at this link. (The event today, with a subsequent effort in Illinois, is more than just the two owner-operators’ baby, though. It’s a big-tent effort involving family, friends and the community at large.)    

Contents of the video version of the podcast at top: 

00:00 - Intro: A Conversation With Glen Horack
03:24 - Glen Horack's Beginnings in Trucking 
04:50 - Leasing with Prime Inc.
08:30 - Advice for Trucking Business Owners
10:20 - Fuel Surcharge & Discounts
12:36 - Cooking in the Truck & Grocery Stores
14:00 - Trucking Theft
16:04 - Sam Biggs Memorial Bike Show and Poker Run
19:14 - Glen's Motorcycles
20:38 - Conclusion & Credits

Podcast transcript:

Glen Horack: If you're going to do it, get your ducks in a row before you do it, and stick with them. That's the biggest thing. Don't try to live on a shoestring.

Todd Dills: Regular Overdrive Radio listeners will well recognize there the voice of our Owner-Operator of the Year, Glen Horack, of Elkland, Missouri, with a simple piece of advice for those who would venture into trucking as an owner-operator. In this part two of our talk with Horack, we'll hear a great deal more from him about just what he means in that regard. Coming off a good two years for freight, speaking late in the month of June, Horack noted the cyclical nature of the trucking business.

Glen Horack: At least once every ten years there going to be a downtick.

Todd Dills: Best to be prepared for that. Always, no matter what the current situation looks like. I'm Todd Dills, your host as usual for this edition of Overdrive Radio for September 2nd, 2022, just ahead of the annual Labor Day holiday. Horack, in a team operation with his wife and now longtime business partner, Karla, is looking forward no doubt to enjoying some time at home with family and friends, with the big Sam Biggs Memorial Bike Show and Poker Run, a benefit to research into childhood cancers like the one that took the life of a close associate's seven year old cousin, inspiring the annual event nine years ago now. It's a big family and community affair today, that's sure.

Glen Horack: We all pretty much do everything. We organize it. We work it. We participate in it.

Todd Dills: We’ll hear more about the value owner-operator Horack gleans from his now more than three-decade relationship with his leasing partner in Prime, Incorporated.

Glen Horack: When you got a big company behind you, it's a lot easier to get stuff done, as far as repairs. I can go into a dealership as a single operator. They don't care when they get to me.

Todd Dills: First, though, we'll dive into Horack's very early days, just starting out after his time serving in Marines, with Charles Litterest’s three-truck C&T Trucking. We'll jump in, that is, right after this word from a brand-new sponsor for Overdrive Radio. Here we go.

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Todd Dills: That's Howes, H-O-W-E-S. A big thanks for their support in making this happen.

So just who was owner-operator Glen Horack growing up? Was he the kind of kid who knew from a very young age that he was headed into a Class 8 over-the-road?

Glen Horack: Not really. I really had no desire to drive a truck. I always liked driving big vehicles and everything. I was driving a trash truck when I got out of the military, and a buddy of mine was running a trucking company, and I needed a job. I went over and basically I made three trips around the parking lot and backed into three different doors, and been on my own ever since.

Todd Dills: Who is your friend with the trucking company? What was his name?

Glen Horack: It was Charles Litterest. He had three trucks of his own and he was running a trucking company for somebody else, where he had his truck leased. That was KPH Transportation. They've been out of business for years. His company was C&T Trucking.

Todd Dills: And so you started in one of his three trucks there.

Glen Horack: 1976 international cabover. I worked for him. Well, we were leased to four or five different companies when I worked for him. Like I said, I drove a cabover, and I drove for him for two years, and then I went to work for KLLM out of Mississippi, and I drove for them for almost six years.

Todd Dills: Where'd you purchase your first truck, or leased your first truck?

Glen Horack: It was in 1992 from Prime. I had talked to a couple Prime drivers at a truck stop one day when we were sitting there, and they were telling me how things worked over there, with your lease and purchase and stuff. And I was young. [inaudible] sounds like you could make a lot better money there than I could here, so I'll give it a shot. And been at it ever since. When you got a big company behind you, it's a lot easier to get stuff done, as far as repairs. I can go into a dealership as a single operator. They don't care when they get to me. But if you’ve got somebody that brings in 20, 30 trucks a week, or a month, they're a little more cooperative.

And I have never had any desire to have more than one truck, because nobody takes care of your equipment like you take care of your equipment. I've seen so many people... My philosophy is, you can either own one truck or ten trucks and be profitable. Anything in between, it's going to be tough. You only got three or four trucks, if one of them breaks down, then you got three trucks paying for four. Two of them break down, you got two trucks paying for four.

And I have made awesome money from that. I mean, I've had to bust my butt to do it, but I've always had the freight to do it.

When I went to work for KLLM, I thought I'd found a home forever, but after about five years, things kind of went in the toilet there back then, and I was making less money after five years than I was making the first year I worked there. And all my working career, I'm always looking for something better. But I came here to Prime in '92 and I left in '95, went back in '96, and I wish I'd have never left, because I've just... I know a lot of people that drive trucks. I don't know anybody that can make the... Well, there's people out there that do, but on a large scale, as many drivers as Prime has, and drivers that make the kind of money they make at Prime. We've got, I think 1,700 company drivers, and all of us rest are leased operators. Got almost 9,000 drivers now.

Todd Dills: They’ve got a huge brokerage division with a lot of dedicated carriers there.

Glen Horack: Yeah. And there's a lot of guys over there that do have only three or four trucks, but they've got a big company behind them, too. If you're actually out on your own and three trucks, boy, it's hard to make it. We get huge fuel discounts and everything else over here. A buddy of mine, he posted a receipt on there the other day, he bought fuel in California, was $6.99 a gallon at the pump.

Todd Dills: And what did he pay?

Glen Horack: Probably paid right at $6.

Todd Dills: With discounts like those, it's easy to see the benefits of the buying power a large company affords smaller businesses like the Horacks’, those that would stake their success on the connection. Some owners out there occasionally tell me that leasing to larger companies is going the way of the dinosaur in trucking. Clearly it's not the case as yet.

Nonetheless, I asked Glen then what he might say if he had a single piece of advice for newly minted trucking business owners coming up in this day and age. There's plenty that can be gleaned from his story alone. In part one of this two part podcast, we detailed his diligent maintenance emergency set-aside savings strategy, for instance. We've just heard him speak to the value of partnerships that he sees with his own at Prime. Yet when it comes to direct advice, here's what he had to say.

Glen Horack: As far as the owner-operator part is, if you're going to do it, get your ducks in a row before you do it, and stick with them. That's the biggest thing. Don't try to live on a shoestring, because just one breakdown can put you out of business. The biggest thing is, like I do, put so much aside for your repairs, and when bad times come, because they will in trucking, it's an up and down thing forever. We've basically had two real good years freight-wise, because it got behind so bad, but I'd say at least once every ten years there's going to be a downtick.

And you don't have a lot of choices anymore. You're going to have to run newer equipment, if you're doing specialized in certain states, because before long, you won't be able to take some of this old... You already can't take a lot of it to California. It's a tough deal right now, because at some point fuel's going to have to change. It's probably going to be about two more years, but if you're charging the surcharge that you need to charge... Like I said, I actually make money off surcharge.

Todd Dills: What kind of fuel mileage is your surcharge based on, and what kind of fuel mileage are you getting in that 579?

Glen Horack: I think Prime gets their surcharge based on seven miles a gallon, and I get about 8.7.

Todd Dills: That's substantial.

Glen Horack: Plus with Prime's discounts... I mean, it's different all over the country. If you watch where you buy fuel, you can even make that greater, too. I think that's one of the biggest challenges that true owner-operators have, is they don't get the discounts that the big companies get. Those and a few other places got some programs that, if you factor with them and stuff with your discounts and stuff, but to get to discount that Prime get, I'd say most places, we get a dollar a gallon off on price.

Todd Dills: There are in fact a variety of resources for independents relative to fuel discounts. The National Association of Small Trucking Companies' fuel card program is well-known, and we routinely hear good things about it. There's the Mudflap app for a variety of independent stops and plenty other fuel card program from major chains and others, like Love's program Horack mentioned. As noted, with Horack speaking in late June, as fuel continued to rise before falling some in more recent weeks in most places, Horack had this to say about his own discounts.

Glen Horack: But it seems right now that the actual discount is shrinking, though. They send us a message every day on our app, letting us know what fuel's going to do at midnight. It'll go down for one or two days, then it'll go up for the next five days in a row, and it goes up much quicker and it goes down.

Todd Dills: Sometimes you've got to laugh to keep from crying. Fortunately, at least, dynamics changed for fuel in the intervening weeks. The diesel prices certainly remain elevated, about $5 per gallon as a national average in the most recent week. The latest hike came alongside the big fire at BP's big Chicago area refinery that shut it down temporarily. Let's hope those supplies get back rolling to normal levels quickly. When I talked with Glen's co-owner-operator and wife, Karla, in the first part of this podcast, released last week, she mentioned a real acumen for cooking in the truck, something that's helped the pair run an even leaner operation in more ways than one. Karla's cooking methods and recipes are diverse, though her in-cab cooking equipment is just a single, quite versatile piece that Glen describes here.

Glen Horack: She got a rice cooker and she cook anything need to cook right in that. She can fry, she can boil, she can just about anything she needs to do in that. We had an Instapot on the truck, but it was so big that it just got in the way. One of the drawbacks of trucks is refrigerator space. If you're running hard, you don't have time to go to the grocery store every day.

Todd Dills: It can be difficult to scout out where you can get into a good grocery store, right?

Glen Horack: Yes, it can. There's more and more places out there that don't allow trucks on their parking lots. And the bad part of it is, our wonderful drivers have done it to ourselves. They go in and trash the place, throw their trash out the window. And it's probably only 5% of the truckers out here that are like that. That's the 5% that shows up. Plus with the thefts that are going on out here now. It used to be that you could drop your trailer at a truck stop, bobtail over to and get whatever you needed. Nowadays, you drop your trailer at a truck stop, you might come back and it's not going to be there.

Todd Dills: The CargoNet cargo theft recording firm just this week alerted members and folks in the trucking media too to be watchful this weekend, with the Labor Day holiday upcoming, a time when extended down periods for many drivers can mean more trucks sitting idle in a variety of places. They noted historically that thefts recorded the Friday before Labor Day and the Tuesday after were the most common over the last five years. In a full 20% of those theft events, the truck or trailer was last known to be left secure on Friday, and almost the third of all theft complaints were then reported on the Tuesday after Labor Day.

CargoNet also reported a troubling trend not related to cargo at all, but to the guts of trucks and tractors' computer systems. Thieves across the country have been targeting the quite expensive and hard to find truck electronic control modules. They expected a spike in such activity this Labor Day weekend too, so be advised. The rise in cargo equipment theft through the decades has been a detriment to Horack's full enjoyment of the road in other ways, too. As he notes, and as his wife and partner in the business noted in part one of this podcast, it's limited opportunity to enjoy the various sites around the country the pair might otherwise have visited. Regular listeners will recall that Glen sold Karla on trucking with a CDL herself in part on their ability to see the country together.

Glen Horack: Which that's one of the biggest things I miss about the way that trucking has changed. Like she was saying earlier, I went and visited a lot of tourist-type stuff when I was running by myself, because you could do that. You could drop your trailer and then you could bobtail, where you can't do it anymore.

Todd Dills: Perhaps as a result, the Horacks have been making their time at home in Elkland, Missouri, making it count for more. A big part of that for Glen for the last nine years has been the Sam Biggs Memorial Bike Show and Poker Run, a benefit for research into childhood cancers named after a young cousin of a fellow Prime owner-operator, and fellow Owner-Operator of the Year, as you'll hear. The ninth annual Sam Biggs event is fast approaching too, set for next weekend, after Labor Day is done this year, and launching from an American Legion location in Springfield, Missouri, with a separate event in Illinois as well.

Glen Horack: The one in Missouri's the week after Labor Day, and we have another one up in Illinois, that follows. We've been playing with that for years, because the first three or four years, we had it the second week of August, and we got rain and rain and rain every year. We’ve been moving around, trying to find a sweet spot, and it seems like the beginning of September usually works out pretty good for us.

Todd Dills: Before the big snowstorms and after the summer rains. How did the Sam Biggs Run get started, and how much are you involved with it still, in terms of running it?

Glen Horack: I'm still involved with it just as much as ever, if not more. But a buddy of mine that I've known for years, he drives for Prime too, but his cousin, I'm not sure his first or second cousin, but their son died at seven years old of childhood cancer, and actually Thomas's daughter, she was 12 and her friend was 12, and they used to go on rides with their dads on the bikes, and they just come up with the idea, we're going for this ride, why don't we try to raise some money for research or whatever? And that's how it started. They started the first year in Springfield, it was just basically a ride, and people donated, and then we changed it into a bike show and poker run, and it's grown every year. We moved locations this year. We used to do it in the parking lot of a bar, and we've outgrown that, so now we're doing it at an American Legion post there in town that we're using this year.

Todd Dills: Glen Horack's partner on the benefit bike show and poker run is fellow owner-operator Thomas Miller. As noted, with a storied pedigree himself, in 2015 he won the owner-operator of the year award in Overdrive and TCA's joint program. The Sam Biggs event is more than just these two owner-operators' baby, though. It's a big tent affair from all involved, from family and friends and the community at large.

Glen Horack: We've got probably a dozen people, a couple of our wives, and we’ve got friends and stuff. We all pretty much do everything. We organize it. We work it. We participate in it. I've got a 2018 Indian, and I've got a 2016 Victory.

Todd Dills: Which one is the one that you ride the most? The Indian?

Glen Horack: The Indian. Yeah. Actually I parked my Victory, because we got rid of our house years ago, and we went and bought a fifth wheel, and we pretty much just stay in it, or we stay at my daughter's house, one or the other. And my Victory I park in my son's garage. He's got an older Honda. Since I parked my bike in his garage, he ain't rode his bike since.

Todd Dills: He might be on his way to inheriting that one, as it were.

Glen Horack: Yeah, probably. It's probably been four years since I even rode that one. But the only reason I got two of them is, back when we were doing our dedicated run up to Canada, I kept one in Missouri and I kept one down in Florida, because we were down there a day and a half every week.

Todd Dills: You would use it down there when you were off, taking some down time.

Glen Horack: You can ride all year down there. But I'm not going to lie to anybody, I'm a fair weather motorcycle rider. I've ridden in the cold a couple times. That's not for me.

Todd Dills: Not quite sure what the forecast looks like for Springfield, Missouri next weekend, but for anyone within striking distance or hauling through, the Sam Biggs Memorial Bike Show and Poker Run is set for Saturday, September 10th, 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, the American Legion Post 639, that's 2660 South Scenic Avenue in Springfield. Here’s a big thanks to Glen and Karla Horack for so much of their time, to Howes for making it happen as sponsor, and to you for hanging through to the end.

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