Truth be told, Elkland, Missouri-based owner-operator Glen Horack "really had no desire to drive a truck growing up," he says today, looking back. His entry into trucking was as much happenstance as anything else. He did like "driving big vehicles," generally speaking, and drove a trash truck for a time after he got out of the military, where he served in the Marines.
Then, a friend was running a small trucking company with three trucks leased on to KPH Transportation, and Horack took the wheel of one -- a "1976 International cabover" he said he helmed for two years driving for C&T Trucking, leased to several different larger outfits over the period.
It was a full eight and more years into his career, though, after around six as a company driver with KLLM out of Mississippi, that he first leased his own rig and went trucking as a contractor. By 1992, he'd talked to several Prime-leased owners and drivers, and thought he could make a great deal more money over the long-term there than he was making at KLLM at the time.
Through the years, that turned out to be true for this year's Owner-Operator of the Year, as Horack was named with his big win in the joint program of the Truckload Carriers Association and Overdrive. Prime has been a crucial part of Horack's success, one he's been plenty vocal about attendant to coverage of his business over the four years he's graced the award finalists' stage at the TCA annual conference. But that close family-like partnership with the truckload carrier isn't all there is to it.
Prime Training Specialist Trish Brewer was Horack's overnight dispatch partner when she first came to the company in the late 1990s. Horack and wife, Karla, who joined him on the truck in 2008, are "very, very committed," Brewer said, both to the needs of their own business but also those of their principal partner. "Glen, he takes care of the company. He really knows the importance [of the notion that] if the reputation’s not there," upheld with on-time deliveries, positive interactions all along every touch point along the supply chain, "how can you get the freight? He makes sure he’s doing his part for both the customer and Prime," as well as his own balance sheet.
In her current role, Brewer teaches a regular business class for leased owners at Prime. Talking to Horack, it's not hard to imagine his long business relationship with Brewer, which extended from the late 1990s up through late in the last decade, helped prepare her well for that role.
Asked for the single best piece of advice he could give to owner-operators starting out in trucking, Horack's answer turns straight to money management, yielding insight into key qualities of his own success, despite the adversity he's seen over the course of his almost 40-year, 5-million-safe-mile career.
"Get your ducks in a row before you do it," he said, building a nest egg with a solid plan for success before venturing out on your own with a truck. More importantly, keep those ducks in a row as you go. "Don’t try to live on a shoestring. Just one breakdown can put you out of business."
Bad times are going to come, he well knows. Horack has throughout his career saved weekly based on a cents-per-mile formula whose initial set-aside figure he admits to having "pulled out of thin air" at first at 15 cents per mile. "That was a little high," he said, for weeks when miles-run were low for whatever reason, too much of a set-aside to be able to meet other obligations during those down weeks. "I went back down to 10 cents" for a time, then adjusted upward to 12 cents where he's found a sweet spot for savings for the unforeseen in recent years. Based on miles-run, savings is commensurate with wear and tear on the equipment, and proportional to those short weeks.
These days, aggregate dollar figures saved can run anywhere between $500 and $750 a week -- "it amounts to about $30,000 a year" typically, he said -- now as noted running team with his wife, Karla, in a 2022 Peterbilt 579 with an 80-inch UltraLoft sleeper the pair took delivery of earlier this year. If all goes according to plan, Horack will trade out this rig in the next two years and do something with his next one he's not done with his most prior units -- pay cash for it in full and ride out the remainder of their career into retirement.
That's right, virtually Horack's entire time as an owner has been in trucks under lease, with a quick trade cycle aimed at keeping a truck well under factory warranties' mileage limitations. Since Karla joined him on the truck back in 2008 in the depths of that economic downturn, "with the miles we put on them," Horack said, "we’ve been trading every two years. We get rid of them before the warranty runs out" to guard against any big-ticket maintenance outlay.
Back when he was a solo operator, though, Horack finished out leases more routinely to take purchase of the equipment, given he "didn’t run the miles" he and Karla do today, he said.
Looking out into the future, he sees other limitations on older equipment coming, and not just in the reliability realm. "You don't have a lot of choices anymore," he said. "Before too long you won't be able to take this old stuff anywhere -- you can't take a lot of it into California right now."
A Prime partnership
Glen Horack's longtime partnership with Springfield, Missouri-headquartered Prime, Inc., has been a principal lynchpin of his success -- no doubt a source of stability through some turbulent years, too.
When he was with KLLM for several years as a company driver in the early part of his career, at first he thought he'd "found a home forever," he said, yet after six years he was making less than the first year he worked there. He came to Prime and, on the lookout for something better, something he's always had an eye out for throughout his career, he left for a brief time in 1995 thinking the grass would be greener. "I wish I’d never left," he said. By 1996 he was back, and he's not left since.
Brewer's longtime negotiation with owner-operator Horack -- and, later, Karla as well -- began shortly thereafter. "He keeps it safe," Brewer said, though with his experience may push limitations farther than the less experienced, toward his business goals. "He’s very consistent, though, and never over-drives for conditions." Shippers routinely report back that Horack "makes them feel good that they talked" to the operator.
The longevity of his leased partnership with Prime led to what Brewer described as a kind of fine-tuned professional, mutual appreciation, with the ability for the Horacks to anticipate company needs and Brewer to know just when it was in their mutual interest to nudge the team in a particular direction, whether that's on to a load with a better income outcome or toward home for a recharge.
After Karla Horack made the transition to full-time hauling in a team with Glen, there were times when, "if I had a tire thumper, I’d thump him a few times," she laughed, yet the transition was eased by solid relationships -- Karla and Trish Brewer by that time were fast friends off the job, Karla said.
Brewer knew well when just to be that friend, and when to be the accountability partner for their bedrock business goals. "That’s the benefit of our dispatch style," Brewer said. "I’m not just dispatching freight [but] also looking at payroll, fuel and mechanics."
Fleet manager Jeff Allie plays that role today, having worked with the Horacks now for roughly four years. "Glen and Karla both are just a joy to work with," Allie said. From his first day in the position, Allie noted he knew both the Horacks "were top-notch -- very professional. There’s like a 'no-brainer' kind of an owner," which the Horacks typify. "Once they’re on a load you know that all the Ts will be crossed and the Is dotted and it will arrive there safe and on-time."
The pair make his job easy, in other words. "I would be bored if I had a whole fleet" of Glen Horacks, he said.
"We’re still training Jeff," Karla joked, "but he’s getting better."
Allie notes former Marine Horack and "navy brat" (according to Glen) Karla participate annually in Wreaths Across America. Allie personally pushes for the Horacks to get the run to Arlington National Cemetery, which he says they've done "a couple of times," Allie said. "I know [Glen] appreciates that as a former Marine." Given his long history of safe operation -- more than 4 million miles with Prime alone, more than 5 overall -- too, "he deserves it," Allie added.
Horack's also been a principal organizer now with a fellow longtime owner-operator, Thomas Miller, of the Sam Biggs Memorial Bike Show and Poker Run, a benefit for research into childhood cancers named after young cousin of Miller's who passed at the tender age of 7. The ninth annual event is set for the weekend after Labor Day this year, launching from an American Legion location in Springfield, Missouri, with a separate event in Illinois as well, Horack said.
For Glen Horack, his long partnership with Prime has been a huge source of savings, too, considering the bedrock costs for any trucking business.
"When you have a big company behind you it’s a lot easier to get repairs done," Horack said, and that's been true throughout much of his time leased to the company. "I can go into a dealership as a single operator," yet affiliated with a company "that might bring them 20 to 30 trucks a week or a month, they’re a little more cooperative" as a result.
Sizable fuel discounts, too, are a perk enjoyed less by true independents with authority, he said, worth in the neighborhood of a full dollar per gallon lately. "A buddy of mine posted a receipt, recently," he said, showing a $6.99 pump price, yet he actually paid right at $6.
"One of the biggest challenges a true independent owner-operator" with authority has, Horack contended, is "getting the discounts the big companies get." Leased owners tied to large fleets like Prime, on the other hand, run at a competitive advantage when it comes to fuel costs.
"It’s a tough deal right now -- fuel will have to change," Horack nonetheless said of this year's dramatic run-up in diesel prices. Yet there's a silver lining even there for a leased owner-operator like himself, paid a fuel surcharge that's based on 7 mpg in Prime's system, and getting "about 8.7 mpg" on average. He's "making money" with that surcharge by beating the fleet-average fuel mileage.
The long-term partnership paid off in another way last year, when Horack suffered a heart attack and underwent a triple-bypass operation, as chronicled in Overdrive News Editor Matt Cole's story about him ahead of his big win this year. Had he not been able to easily get out from under his truck for what amounted for five months' worth of downtime as Prime took it back from him, the time off “would have been devastating to my business,” he told Cole.
Back in the saddle now and running reefer freight -- produce, high-dollar pharmaceuticals and more -- all across the lower 48 with Karla, Horack said the 2022 he's hauling in today will likely be his last leased truck. After he turns it in, he plans to pay cash for another, to be his final rig as an owner-operator and which he'll wheel out toward retirement, serving where he can as a mentor to new owners coming up.
When Trish Brewer was his principal dispatch partner, he noted, "she used to refer people to me all the time. ... Knock on wood, I've been here 30 years" and, through it all, even in the most-difficult years of his career during the Great Recession of '08-'09, "never took a loss."
It's been better for Horack than that makes it sound, though. "We're in good shape" for these final years of the career, Owner-Operator of the Year Horack said.
[Related: Meet the owners and drivers of the year -- a window on the Las Vegas awards banquet]