'Expensive wisdom' from decades trucking: Trucker of the Month Doug Viaille

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Updated Mar 9, 2024

Doug Viaille's 2014 FreightlinerThe 2014 Freightliner Cascadia of owner-operator Doug Viaille, Overdrive Trucker of the Month for February.

Garland, Texas-headquartered owner-operator Doug Viaille has banked a couple of solid income years after making a key decision when spot freight markets fell back from 2018 post-electronic logging device mandate peaks. Then running as Goat's Transport with his own authority, Viaille saw some of the proverbial writing on the wall for rates well ahead of the big COVID-inspired fall and in 2019 leased on with a small fleet.

Then a much bigger one, Roadrunner, "hauling LTL freight for them ... terminal to terminal," he said. "They've got terminals all over the country." He stretched out across the deserts "as often as I could" to the location in Mira Loma, California, with runs from Dallas and Houston, Chicago, Detroit and many other origins -- and destinations. 

Yet after a string of health issues for both he and his wife, Mary, who helps in the operation in the back office at their Garland home, an intriguing opportunity rose in March of 2022. For the two years since, owner-operator Viaille's banked better income pulling a company hopper and with his 2014 Freightliner Cascadia leased to North Little Rock, Arkansas, bulk hauler Oakley Trucking.

He enjoys the steady nature of a dedicated operation running empty to Glenwood, Arkansas, loaded back to his area around Dallas with bulk product five, sometimes six days a week. Tuesday-Saturday, typically, occasionally Sunday, too. Monday he keeps open for downtime -- and maintenance needs, part of what led fellow owner-operator Shawn Mitchell to nominate Viaille for Overdrive's 2024 Trucker of the Year award. "Doug is always fixing something, as needed," Mitchell said. "He keeps up his truck very well." 

His trucking-business knowledge is lauded by the dispatcher he works most closely with at Oakley, too. Bryan Hill's worked in support of an untold number of owners through 20 years at the company. Support in his business is a two-way street, he suggested, and owner-operator Viaille's been there as an assist for him as much as the opposite is true. "Doug gives you the information you need as a dispatcher, things that help us plan our day," Hill said. "And he knows what he needs professionally to keep him going as well. Being an owner-operator, it’s not the easiest thing in the world" for everyone, minus the week-in, week-out guarantee of a check.

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Owner-operator Viaille, Hill knows, has been around enough blocks to manage revenue needs against costs and necessary downtime. 

In that fundamental sense, Hill said, "he’s a true professional."

Owner-operator Doug Viaille is Overdrive's Trucker of the Month for February, putting him in the running for the 2024 Trucker of the Year award, sponsored this year by Commercial Vehicle Group, with its well-known Bostrom Seating brand, among many others.

overdrive trucker of the year 2024 logoOverdrive's 2024 Trucker of the Year program, sponsored by Commercial Vehicle Group, recognizes clear business acumen and unique or time-honored recipes for success among owner-operators. Through October, we're naming Truckers of the Month to contend for this year's Trucker of the Year honor. Finalists will be named in December, and a winner crowned early next year. Nominations continue to be sought for exceptional owner-operators, whether leased or independent, throughout the year. Nominate your business or that of a fellow owner (up to three trucks) via this link.

Making good on decades in business 

Doug Viaille and his 2014 CascadiaOwner-operator Doug Viaille, pictured here with his Detroit-powered 2014 Freightliner Cascadia, used the "Pirate" CB handle for years. At once, it's also been years since he's found occasion for it. "If I ever pick another it’ll be 'Class Clown.' I’m always clowning around."Doug Viaille's Goat's Transport business' moniker stems from a nickname of sorts his wife, Mary, had for him in the past. "She used to call me her 'Old Goat,'" Viaille said. "I would have named it Old Goat’s Transport," but he ran across another hauler with that name "on the side of his truck." 

Goat's would do, he figured, "to not look like I was copying him. Somebody once asked if I used to haul goats. Reefers, yeah. Did flatbed for about a year, little over a year, maybe." Containers, too, plenty of dry vans. 

It's been a career that stretches back to the early 1980s, when Viaille got his chauffer's license, taking the drive test in a one-ton Chevy. "I was working for the phone company" in his area, he said, part of the "crew that pulled underground telephone cables. We used trucks in our work, of course," including a single tractor-trailer he would end up driving to haul the cables to this or that jobsite.

It wasn't long before he "got silly and decided I wanted to drive over-the-road," he said.

His first such work back at that time was with Prime out of Springfield, Missouri. "With a hiatus here and there, I’ve been mostly driving ever since," he said.

He got involved in a lease-purchase deal in 1986 that went south, but he truly became an owner-operator with a 1981 Peterbilt cabover purchased a couple years later. "It was slow," that truck, he said, with a 300-hp Cummins mechanical engine. "Slow, but steady," he added. "I drove it all over the country" before trading in the early 1990s for a bit of an upgrade to an International with more pull, leasing with different companies in efforts to find a fit. 

He wouldn't find it then, and sold the International in favor of a company driver job for a few years into the early 2000s, saving for his next move to a Kenworth T600 he ran for years. But: he kept the T600 about two years too long, and "maintenance ate up most of what I had saved" over those years, Viaille said. 

[Related: Parasitic costs: 15 ways to eliminate and save, build value as an owner-operator]

Expensive lesson learned, though. Today, asked for his best piece of advice for aspiring owners, it's this experience in part that guides his response. "When your repair bills start going up toward the end of a truck’s lifespan," he said, specifically when nearing the time and/or mileage when an overhaul is in the cards, "look very closely at that." 

Prepare for it by boosting your intentional rate of saving for maintenance, or truck replacement, over time, a best practice detailed in Overdrive's Partners in Business handbook for owner-operator businesses. "There’s a pitfall there" many an owner-operator has experienced, Viaille added, in bigger and ever bigger repair bills that "wind up a little bit at a time using up all the money that you’ve been saving." 

He's in that mode today, so to speak, with his 2014 model Cascadia, two trucks on from the T600. When he purchased the truck in 2016, it had just more than 300,000 miles behind it. 

Doug Viaille's 2014 Freightliner Cascadia, Oakley hopperPictured with the Oakley hopper Viaille pulls, the Cascadia "had been a Stevens Transport truck," he said, now pushing 505 horsepower and with the speed governor setting turned up to allow for speed-limit running.

Now, the Cascadia's sitting right around 930,000 miles without an overhaul. "According to Detroit, the design life before overhaul is 1.2 million miles," he reckoned. While he's not sure how far he'll push that mileage indicator, he's closely considering trading for a lower-mileage, used unit in the near future.

His other best piece of advice for new or aspiring owners? "Don't lease a truck from the company you're working with," he said, harking back to his own mid-1980s experience as well. "It simply gives them too much power over you. ... You can't just take your truck and lease it to somebody else" if the company's freight opportunities dry up. Rather, to make a move "you lose all the equity" you'd otherwise have built with a traditional truck purchase "and start over at square one." 

[Related: Lease-purchase task force zeroes in on restrictive maintenance covenants]

Steady as she goes toward profits in bulk

Owner-operator Viaille's lease to Roadrunner immediately prior to moving to Oakley offered a mileage-pay scheme. With his dedicated operation at Oakley, he's compensated on a percentage basis, for overall better revenue on fewer miles, he said. He maintains a business account where weekly settlements (minus fuel, an ELD subscription, insurance, IFTA and IRP) are deposited, averaging above $3,000. From there, he pays for all necessary maintenance and other expenses, and makes regular distributions to a personal account that Mary manages for home expenses.

Bulk hauling was a new niche for him, but the learning curve was short for the experienced owner. Oakley has opportunity in their system for owner-operators to pull pneumatic tanks or end dumps in addition to hoppers. With the dedicated opportunity staring him in the face after fuel spiked in early 2022, though, he settled on hopper, knowing too that the compensation structure incentivized things he had at least some control over. 

That includes the amount of product in the trailer. Using on-board scales at load, Viaille can accurately dial in max legal amounts to net extra revenue per 1,000 pounds above a base.  

"If I haul more, my percentage ends up being more," he said. He loads on a platform scale "that ticks off the weight," yet it's "not super-accurate" depending on temperature and other factors. "When the guys figure all the variables correct and set it right, they can load within a few hundred pounds" of the target weight, yet his on-board scales offer a reliable check for that as the two compartments in the hopper are loaded. 

2014 Freightliner Cascadia and Oakley hopperWith 50% of Viaille's miles run empty, the other half right at the legal weigh limits, the 2014 Cascadia averages just more than 6 miles per gallon.

The run between the loading and drop-off points is 280 miles one-way. Generally, he heads out empty to start the day and can "make the turn and have about two hours to play with" at the end of the day. Rather than head home to Garland, though, Viaille most often uses "that two hours to work my way closer to the shipper" to set up for the next morning. 

Oakley dispatcher Bryan Hill notes this kind of advance decision-making makes Viaille particularly successful with an ability to anticipate changes in the flow of freight coming out of the facility where he loads. 

Say the "plant goes down," and some among the "14 guys who run this lane [are] bunched up in front of him" waiting, Hill said. Positioned closer and communicative with Hill about available hours, Viaille "does well to make sure he's not in a group of trucks that's going to delay him" making his run.   

Oakley also delivers owners a bonus for clean inspections at scale or roadside, Hill added, which owner-operator Viaille's made good on in recent memory as well. "He’s definitely one that we can count on at all times." 

[Related: Ways to avoid trouble at the scale house, with Roadcheck on the horizon]

A personal backstop key to the last decade and a half

Health catastrophes have spelled ruin for many an owner-operator business. Doug Viaille has experienced more than one of those in recent years -- with two separate retina detachments that put his career at risk. Though downtime was certainly assured in both instances, the financial impact was muted by a simple fact. The owner-operator had health insurance in place, since 2010 a Blue Cross Blue Shield plan purchased through the Affordable Care Act health insurance exchanges.

The plan's been a sizable expense itself through the years, yet "it’s been certainly more affordable to have that than to have to pay the medical bills," Viaille said. 

Mary's still covered by the same plan, but Doug Viaille turned 65 last year, opening up the Medicare option for his own coverage, with a supplemental plan to help with out-of-pocket expenses, likewise prescription coverage.

[Related: Getting close to 65? Now's the time to understand the realities around Medicare for health-care needs]  

He's achieved better work-life balance these past couple of years leased to Oakley, too, being fully home at least every weekend. Though he most often stays out with the truck during the workweek, his home in Garland is right on his daily route between Texas and Arkansas.

A couple years ago, too, Mary locally found what would become a big part of Viaille's current operation. 

Doug's copilot, Eevee, his dog, sitting in his truck's driver's seatDoug's copilot, Eevee, is now about two and a half years old.

Owner-operator Viaille had in past pulled with a ridealong dog who'd over time closely bonded to another pet at home. Mary "had been telling me she was getting too old for a big dog, and she wanted a small dog," Doug said. Next thing he knew she showed him a picture of Viaille's current copilot, also pictured above -- more like 60 pounds' worth of a small dog.

She had another surprise for Viaille, too. 

"This will be your dog," she said. 

The pair were playing Pokemon with one of their grandchildren, and the game's character Eevee gave the young dog her name.

"She runs with me" now, Viaille said, "handles security" for the operation.  

Viaille's clear-eyed when it comes to the future, too, acknowledging a retirement-savings opportunity missed early in his career. "It's something I should have been thinking about 40 years ago," he said. He does have a personal investment account today that he contributes to. 

Yet, the Class Clown went on, "I’m not a wise investor" by any stretch of the word, he said, particularly when it comes to active, hands-on stock buying and selling and the like. "I’m kinda lazy and I act out of desperation."

He laughed, reflecting on past failed investments and invoking the wisdom it takes to know one's own impulses and tendencies well. "It's kind of expensive wisdom." 

[Related: Bitterman Trucking bounces back to build on long, strong trucking legacy]

You can enter your own owner-operator business or nominate another for Overdrive's 2024 Trucker of the Year competition via this link. Nominations will be accepted throughout the year. Hear last year's Trucker of the Month contenders' and 2023 winner Jay Hosty's stories in their own words via the playlist below. 

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Overdrive editors and ATBS present the industry’s best manual for prospective and committed owner-operators. You’ll find exceptional depth on many issues in the 2022 edition of Partners in Business.
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