"On one hand, you should be home in the office and dispatching -- on the other, the drivers really respect the fact that he’s still out there with them." --Lisa Turley, office manager for D. Weaver Trucking, about company founding owner-operator Dannel Weaver
D. Weaver Trucking is situated a 20-minute drive south of Canton, Ohio, in Strasburg, a mile and a half off I-77 and where founder Dannel Weaver lives next-door to his company's shop, pictured above. Weaver got his start trucking in 1993 after working on a dairy farm where he drove trucks from time to time, having learned very young. "I bought my own in 1997," he said, and pulled a dry box delivering bird seed all over the country, hauled a little cattle, pulled a reefer and some flatbed as well.
Early experience with an end dump, moving sand and gravel, and a hopper with grain, ultimately, called him back. "I came back to my bucket," he said, "End dump, whole bucket." His D. Weaver Trucking is unique among 2023 semi-finalists for Overdrive's Small Fleet Championship in that at the beginning of the four-year evaluation period for this year's award, the business was just a single truck. In just a couple years, the company's multiplied that number sixfold with trucks pulling mostly end dumps and hauling industrial by-products from plant to plant.
And as the quote from D. Weaver Trucking's Lisa Turley above makes clear, owner Dannel Weaver is managing his family of operators and building loads working with customers while still behind the wheel himself.
"He got his authority in 2018," said Turley, who started doing Weaver's bookkeeping in 2017, when he was leased and the pair soon became more than just a trucking team. They've been functioning as a family business ever since, with daughter Lyndsey also involved now in the back office.
The company hauls into and out of a lot of steel mills, working with a primary brokerage customer who manages traffic for various operations into and out of the Midwest, Pennsylvania, nearby Southern states and elsewhere. "One man’s trash is another man’s treasure," Weaver said of the freight, residual waste from steel processing that goes from one plant to another to be reworked into pig iron.
Among a few specialized brokers Weaver works with are U.S. Bulk's brokerage division and, most frequently, All-Pro Transport, who accounts for the bulk of their business.
"Most of our work is done through All-Pro," said Turley. Dannel Weaver came to All-Pro by word of mouth, becoming familiar with the company when he was leased to another outfit who hauled for them on occasion.
All-Pro terminal manager Randy Snyder said of Dannel, "I think he does a great job. It’s all in developing a relationship."
In the beginning working with All-Pro, Weaver "ran the miles to see what we were doing with the trucks," learned the lanes and what could fit into his schedule to turn a profit and get him back home.
"Today," Snyder said in August, "he and I discussed one of his trucks getting empty in Lordstown," Ohio, due Northeast of the D. Weaver Trucking home base. Snyder presented him a potential round for the driver, which would bump him east into Pennsylvania, then back to Toledo, Ohio, into Michigan to reload and back home. Given his positioning in Lordstown at the time of the conversation, Weaver could see "it was better to do that" with his driver in Lordstown, even with the deadhead, "than another truck."
Snyder was able to present a rate for the round on a per-mile basis to help speed up Weaver's evaluation, though his operators earn a percentage of the load for the paychecks.
Percentage pay comes along with a close-knit, family-type culture Weaver and Turley both feel has been instrumental in seeding growth by attracting professional drivers as word gets around. Snyder pointed to that culture himself. "When he goes to Louisville" for the Mid-America Trucking Show in March of every year, he said, "all his drivers go with him. He does things with his drivers. It's not just 'here’s your paycheck, go home.'"
Building the base to invest in families
It's early days for trucking-company personnel management for Turley and Weaver, given the pair only started adding trucks and drivers in 2021, two in January of that year and three more last year. That followed a lesson learned in 2019 after a very good year for Weaver's then one-truck business. "The old-school way of pay your bills and save your money," said Turley -- the tax man "doesn't like that." The pair decided on a plan to to expand for the long term, reducing that tax bill with equipment investment in the short term.
D. Weaver Trucking now runs a Kenworth T800 and five W9s, all purchased from individual sellers.
"I think he’s making wise decisions abut his growth," said All-Pro's Snyder. "He’s not mortgaging everything. ... His tractors aren’t brand-new but they're in good repair."
Weaver and Turley employ a mechanic, and they've "been through a few" in the last years. Yet Weaver's choice of truck was made with the knowledge that he can work on all the engines himself when needs arise. "Most of our mechanic work is done right there in our own shop," he said. "I like it that way. I’m pretty fussy on mechanical work and how things are done."
Turley credits maintenance capability as ensuring the company's success, as it relates to income, safety and everything else. "We need to know that things are done right," she said. "If you just patch something here and there, it’ll come back to haunt you " Costs, then, can quickly "multiply [when you're] breaking down on the road." .
Three of the trucks are powered by Cummins N14s and "the rest are Caterpillars," all pre-emissions, Weaver said. "Those I can still work on. If I get stumped, there are several mechanics a quarter-mile from where I live that really help me out" with recommendations.
Two of them handle the "bigger engine jobs and transmission work," Turley said.
Weaver's end dumps are generally newer than the tractors, though two from the Raven manufacturer are late-1990s models. "That’s where you need to spend your money in this business," All-Pro's Snyder said in reference to trailers.
In addition to a recent dump purchase, Weaver also owns a 2011 Mac, a 2016 Trailstar and a 2021 Stargate. The flatbed in reserve is a 2016 Fontaine.
Investment in equipment for expansion has been enabled in part by a lump-sum bank loan from a local source, and other investments include the real estate on which sit the shop, Weaver and Turley's home and an office completed in 2021.
Most importantly for Dannel Weaver, the decision to expand is a decision to invest in a different asset -- the community around him. That's how he views the enterprise, as investment "in other families. Our drivers are family to us. ... It's very much a team effort here.
Though Weaver and Turley have had a few come and go the last couple years, Turley believes "right now we've got a really good team who will be with us for a while."
Two of the operators Weaver's trained on end dump work himself. He likens dump work to hauling livestock in that it "takes a special breed of person," he said. "You don't stay clean all of the time. ... Sometimes you have to put a shovel in your hand -- I’ve shoveled quite a few loads off".
Also, "once you load the load you get there as quick as you possibly can," he added. "Most of the times there’s something waiting on you" when you arrive to unload. The go-go-go atmospherics around day-to-day operations, sometimes, is hard to square with what's necessary to effectively manage a team, though. Patience, Weaver noted, is a quality that's really helped him along the growth journey, the ability to "stay strong when things are bad, if that makes sense. Some weeks you may have a hundred things go wrong with four of the trucks."
The driver, meanwhile, needs to run, and juggling it all is most certainly a challenge.
But juggle it he does, likewise the primary relationship with All-Pro that's keeping Weaver humming with freight. Most of the loads are booked with a fuel surcharge to help off-set the fickle nature of that highly variable expense. D. Weaver Trucking is also a member of the National Association of Small Trucking Companies and uses its fuel program for pump-price discounts.
He's got a couple of direct customers he works for on occasion, but he knows the value of his relationship with Snyder and All-Pro, about three years in. "Sometimes, they’ll see some loads that I can’t see," even if it meaning working with a different broker, he said.
Snyder noted the collaborative nature of their relationship in that regard as well. If he knows another broker has a load that would fit the location of one of Weaver's operators -- delivered every morning for the next day's location by Weaver to All-Pro -- he just makes the referral with no expectation of remuneration.
"That’s the relationship I’ve built with the primary broker," said Weaver. "I don’t want to cut the hand that feeds me. There’s been customers that have come to me," saying, "'Whey don’t you just go direct?' And I’ve told them, 'Listen, I’d love to but I can’t do that given my conscience and loyalty.'"
He's focused on building his company's reputation, meantime. "There have been a few [shippers] who ask for the Weaver trucks," specifically, he said. "That’s the reputation that I want to build, and I expect that out of all my drivers, too. In the long run, that will get us better with everybody."