Harnessing the wisdom of experience: A hallmark of the best among owner-ops

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Updated Mar 13, 2024

In this week's edition of Overdrive Radio highlighting February Trucker of the Month Doug Viaille, listeners get a clear sense for the owner-operator's understated, homespun sense of humor. Today hauling as Goat’s Transport, Viaille’s been in business for himself as an owner-operator for most of his 30-plus years in trucking thus far, and was nominated for the Trucker of the Year award by a fellow owner who calls him "Mr. Overdrive," in fact, after we called on Viaille’s experience in years past in a couple of different features.

Howes logoOverdrive Radio's sponsor is Howes, longtime provider of fuel treatments like its Howes Diesel Treat anti-gel and Lifeline rescue treatment to get you through the coldest temps, likewise its all-weather Diesel Defender, among other products.Viaille’s seen success these last years leased to Oakley Trucking -- that’d be the Bruce Oakley, Inc., bulk hauler based in Arkansas, where Viaille pulls a company hopper on a back-and-forth dedicated run loaded with industrial product, for healthy profits.

He's banked plenty in the way of wisdom, too, enough to recognize his own shortcomings and lean into the areas where he’s top-notch, as was illustrated to an extent in the feature about him published a couple weeks back.

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

It can be "expensive wisdom," learning from mistakes made, as he notes, yet it's a hallmark of the best among owner-operators. Doug’s bounced back and learned plenty from more than a few, yet always with that dry sense of humor at the ready. Join us for this run through Viaille’s history going back to his pre-CDL Texas commercial license test in the late 1970s/early 1980s behind the wheel of a one-ton Chevrolet. Take a listen: 

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.

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Bostrom Seating logoThe 2024 Trucker of the Year will win a seat from Commercial Vehicle Group's well-known Bostrom Seating brand, among other prizes from the sponsor. Overdrive will also custom-build a scale replica of the Trucker of the Year's tractor as trophy, working with Pennsylvania-based Eston Hoffman and his Hoffman Mechanical Design business.

[Related: Groundhog says it's time to prep for early Spring for owner-operator business]


Doug Viaille: She used to call me her old goat. I would've named it Old Goat’s Transport. At one point I saw somebody else and he had “old goat’s transport” on the side of his truck, so I just called it Goat’s Transport to not be from stealing him or not look like I was. People have asked if I used to haul goats, and no I didn't.

Todd Dills: Up top there, I'd be willing to bet you get a little bit of a sense for the understated homespun sense of humor of one owner-operator Doug Viaille, today hauling as Goat’s Transport as he noted. No Old goats here, Doug Viaille has been in business for himself as an owner-operator for most of his 30 plus years in trucking thus far and gets the nod in Overdrive's Trucker of the Year program is February's Trucker of the Month, nominated by a fellow owner who calls him “Mr. Overdrive” In fact, after we called on Viaille's experience in years past and a couple of different features. Owner-operator Viaille’s seen success, particularly these last years, leased to Oakley Trucking. That'd be the Bruce Oakley bulk hauler based in Arkansas where he pulls a company hopper on a back and forth dedicated run loaded with industrial product. He's banked plenty in the way of wisdom. too, enough to recognize his own shortcomings and lean into the areas where he's top-notch, as I illustrated to some extent the feature about him published last week @overdriveonline.com. Look for a link to that in the show notes for this edition of Overdrive Radio for Friday, March 8th, 2024, wherever you're listing.

I'm Todd Dills, your host as usual, and we'll hear much more about owner-operator Viaille’s wisdom as we go along. That sense of humor, too.

Doug Viaille: It's kind of expensive wisdom, but yeah …

Todd Dills: It's a hallmark of the best among owner-operators learning plenty from those expensive mistakes, as it were. Doug's bounced back for more than a few, always with that dry sense of humor at the ready. His CB handle? Well …

Doug Viaille: The last CB handle I used was Pirate, but I hadn't even used a handle in so long. I think if I pick another handle, it'll be Class Clown.

Todd Dills: Why so?

Doug Viaille: I guess because I'm always clowning around.

Todd Dills: No fooling though. Asked for his best piece of advice for new owners. He harked back to a time prior to buying his first truck in the late 1980s and an early lease purchase that was educational. The hard way.

Doug Viaille: I learned that you don't want to lease a truck from the same people you're leasing the same truck back to, which is what a lease purchase is. Just gives them, it simply gives 'em too much power over you. You're not a true owner-operator in a sense of if things are not working out at that company, you can't just take your truck and go lease it onto somebody. So if you have any equity, if you put any money in on the truck or whatever, you lose all that and you start over again at square one

Todd Dills: And there's more where that came from as well as plenty of Viaille’s history. Going back to his pre-CDL commercial license test in the late 1970s, early 1980s behind the wheel of a one ton Chevrolet. And before we hit the break, here's welcome to a new sponsor for our Trucker of the Year award for 2024. It's Commercial Vehicle Group, well known amongst owners for the Boston Seating brand, among many others. Contenders this year in the running for a variety of prizes including one of those seats to go to the winner. Put your own owner-operator business to the running @ overdriveonline.com/toptrucker

Now, a word from Overdrive Radio’s sponsor, the fine folks from Howes Products.

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Todd Dills: That's H-O-W-E-S howesproducts.com. Now introducing our February trucker of the month. Class clown, bulk hauler pass, dry reefer, flatbed container puller. Much else besides, here we go.

Doug Viaille: My name is Doug Viaille. I'm an owner-operator. I've got a 2014 Freightliner Cascadia, got it leased on with Bruce Oakley and I run a dedicated route running from back and forth between Irving, Texas and Glenwood, Arkansas. I run empty up to Arkansas and then coming back this way I haul, they call it headlap, granules.

Todd Dills: And that's like every day. Just clockwork, five days a week kind of thing or what?

Doug Viaille: Sometimes six days a week or usually six days a week are available. I usually just run five. I generally run Tuesday through Saturday for the simple reason that so many places are closed on the weekends. Monday is about the only day to get work done on the truck or some of the stuff, personal stuff I need to take care of.

Todd Dills: You're running a hopper trailer, right?

Doug Viaille: I've been doing this ever since I started with Oakley and I started March two years ago, almost two years ago. Next month will be two years and it is been working out real well for me. Some of the guys that are on that dedicated route go home every day. As for myself, I think it's, to me living in town, it's just too much of a hassle to park the truck and get all my stuff in the pickup and go home and all that and back to work the next day. It takes too much time for me, so I prefer just sleep in the truck and come home on weekends.

Todd Dills: How far away is it where you are when you come back into the Texas area? I know you live in Garland I believe, right?

Doug Viaille: Yes, I live in Garland, which is right on the route, but parking the truck is what the issue is. If I had a place out in the country where I could park the truck on my own land, it would be different.

Todd Dills: What's life like for you there?

Doug Viaille: We live in, it's a Fox and Jacobs house and it was built in the early seventies, I believe. We've lived here since 93. It's in a subdivision here in Garland. We've been here long enough. If we were to ever decide to move, it would be a major deal.

Todd Dills: 30 some years of history tied up in the house in Garland include three now grown children between Doug and his wife and business partner Mary, who's long been an assist with the back office books there and spent time on the road driving team with Doug in his early years. Seven grandchildren are part of the extended family now too. When I met owner-operator Viaille originally in 2017, he was running under his own authority and had been for quite some time pulling a dry van. This was noted in my story about him. He then made what would turn out to be a prescient decision in 2019 as rates began to fall off 2018 peaks and Covid was right around the corner

Doug Viaille: When the rates got so bad. So I leased on with Scott for a few months.

Todd Dills: That’s small fleet owner, Scott Jordan, then operating what was known as Powerhouse Transportation. Jordan and his then Independent Carrier Group had also been a dispatch services provider to Viaille for some of his time of authority. Leasing to the small fleet didn't last long ago, mere matter of months as…

Doug Viaille: After that, I leased on with Roadrunner, kept my trailer and leased on with Roadrunner hauling LTL freight for them for the most part it was pretty good. I enjoyed the way we ran the LTL stuff, just running terminal to terminal. They weren't as careful with my trailer as I wish they had a bin. They damaged it a little bit from time to time. Yeah, I really enjoyed that and I went to as often as I could. I went to Mira Loma terminal out there …

Todd Dills: In southern California, that is.

Doug Viaille: I'm one of the ones that likes running out across the desert, but they've got terminals all over the place. That one in Dallas and one in Houston, two out there in the LA area. One up San Leandro, I believe is where it is. It's in the Bay Area, Chicago, Detroit. I think they got three in Ohio, Cincinnati, at least two. I know Cincinnati and Columbus. I know Charlotte Carolina got one on Long Island, but I never went there.

Todd Dills: But you were pulling your own trailer still though.

Doug Viaille: Yes,

Todd Dills: You'd have to spend some time waiting on that every time. Every time you go there. But

Doug Viaille: Once you learned where all the terminals that you went to were, it was easy and you'd learn the neighborhoods. You'd learn where you liked to go eat while you were waiting on them to unload your trailer and load something else on it and that kind of thing. So yeah, I enjoyed the work. They were paying. I mean it was a mileage rate and it varied depending on where you were running at. Like Dallas to California, it was actually kind of cheap. Dallas to Chicago paid quite a bit more. They had a chart showing every different run and how much a mile they paid on every one of them.

Todd Dills: What spurred the move to Oakley?

Doug Viaille: Better pay, make a little more at Oakley, and I'm home a little more so I can depend on being home every weekend here. Those of us that are on dedicated routes, we get a percentage. The ones that are just running over the road, they get a mileage pay, the people pulling hoppers. It varies whether you're pulling a hopper or a end dump or a pneumatic tank. The pneumatic tanks according are the ones that get paid the most per mile, but they have to stay out longer. They have to go to Canada.

Todd Dills: There are dedicated opportunities pulling Oakley pneumatics too. Shorter runs like what Viaille’s doing now and paid on a percentage basis. Regular Overdrive Radio listeners will recall my run in north central Kentucky with Oakley leased John McCormick in late 2022 in his Bandit 2021 Kenworth W900L between facilities in that region.

Doug Viaille: Then next to that there's your end dumps. I considered that, but in the end I decided to work a whole lot more for just a little bit more money to pull the end dump. So I decided on hoppers and they had an opening in their dedicated one I hired on, so that's what I took.

Todd Dills: Good timing to ink such a steady run. March 2022, fuel prices on the march to unchartered territory after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, inflation running rampant all throughout the economy and the trucking business through the rest of the year and freight rates, again, were starting a long march down from Covid highs. For Viaille, It's been pretty steady-Eddie since. As he noted, those recent history moves build on long experience. It stretches back for him now more than four decades.

Doug Viaille: I want to say 1980, I was working for the phone company and I was working on a crew that pulled underground lines in underground telephone cables. So we used trucks of course in our work and that was back before they came up with a CDL. Every different state set the requirements and I actually took my driving test in a one ton Chevrolet

Todd Dills: That’s in Texas.

Doug Viaille: That was in Texas. I took a girlfriend once that was going to be my co-driver up to get her driving test in Missouri and she took the test in a car. Different states just had different requirements, so I got my CDL or got my commercial, I think they called it a commercial license. Some states called it a commercial license and some called it a chauffer’s.

We did have a tractor trailer on the crew and so I learned how to drive that and I drove the tractor trailer on the crew that hauled the cables out to the job site and suspended them over the manhole while we were pulling them in. Well, after I did that for a while, I got silly I guess, and decided I wanted to drive over the road. I went to Missouri and I went to work for a company there in Missouri Prime Incorporated Springfield, Missouri with a Hi of here and there. I've been mostly driving ever since, became an owner-operator. Initially, I want to say it was in about 88 or nine, something like that. I mean I did have a lease purchase deal back in 86, but I don't really count that as being a real loader operator. First truck I got was a cab over Peterbilt, I want to say a 1981 year model with a 300 Cummins mechanical engine.

It was slow but it was steady, so I drove it all over the country, traded it in for a international with a 4 44 Cummins and at that time that was a fairly big motor somewhere. Well in the early nineties, I want to say it was a couple of years or so after I got to Peterbilt, I just got so fed up with being an owner-operator. I finally wound up turning loose of that and I drove as a company driver for several years. Finally, in the early two thousands I decided again that I wanted to be an owner-operator and so against my wife's wishes, I took about half of 20. We saved up and put it down on a Kenworth T 600. That was a darn good truck problem I made with it is I kept it about two years too long and the maintenance ate up everything I had earned, everything I had saved with it up to that point. So I traded it in on a 2011 Freightliner Cascadia, ran it for several hundred thousand miles and eventually traded it in on the truck I have now.

Todd Dills: Was it used at the time?

Doug Viaille: Yeah, it was used at the time. It had just barely over 300,000 miles on it when I got it. It had been a Stevens truck. It must have been 2016 I want to say. Yeah, probably about 2016

Todd Dills: A standard fleet truck. Have you done anything major to it since then, other than just maintaining?

Doug Viaille: Mostly just maintain it. It's pretty much a fleet truck. I mean I did have it, no longer runs 70 miles an, I mean it no longer only runs 70 miles an hour. It'll do the speed limit. I mean I do that. I have 'em all turned up when I buy 'em so that it was, I think it was 455-horsepower when I bought it. I had 'em turn it up to 505, which was the most that Freightliner would do it and had the speed turned up.

Todd Dills: What have you been able to do in terms of fuel mileage on it?

Doug Viaille: I usually get just barely over six, so I've come to, I mean that's kind of about what I've come to believe you can expect nowadays is I know a lot of people claim to do seven and I've heard some claim to do eight, but about six and a quarter, maybe six and a half is about the most I've ever gotten and of course with what I'm hauling now, 50% of my miles are empty. So that's really lot. But then the other 50% of the loads are maximum gross weight

Todd Dills: Day-to-day, Viaille expends energy managing another key element of an owner-operator's trucking business -- time efficiency -- on a one-way, 280 mile run that on the Arkansas portion in particular is a large amount of two lane road and speed limited at 55 miles per hour

Doug Viaille: You can make the turn and have generally about maybe two hours to play with, but I usually use that two hours for is try to work my way closer to the shipper so that by Saturday I only have a short ways to go before I load

Todd Dills: Like clockwork Viaille’s weekly settlements come in between 3000 and 3400, and that's net fuel and insurance and other deductions. The truck’s long since paid off though, getting up in age and miles to the point that he's eyeing the distinct likelihood of not making the same mistake he made with his T600.

Doug Viaille: Repairs. Some of the time hit me pretty hard. But …

Todd Dills: How many miles are on that truck now?

Doug Viaille: Just shy of 930,000.

Todd Dills: No major overhaul or anything yet?

Doug Viaille: Not yet, no. According to Detroit, the design life before overhaul is 1.2 million. I'm not sure whether I'll try to push it out that far or whether I'll try to trade it in before then.

Todd Dills: The owner-operator’s spoken to dealers about possible new purchases but expects he'll take the same approach he's taken throughout his career. Buying used from a trusted dealer.

Doug Viaille: If you buy a used truck from a dealer and they go over it thoroughly and it's low mileage, why you should get several hundred thousand miles out of it before the maintenance really shoots skyrockets.

Todd Dills: If, that is, emissions issues don't rear their ugly heads as they did in the case of his 2014 Cascadia early on in his ownership.

Doug Viaille: There was a very nerve wracking experience. The DEF was problematic and we actually spent a long time in the shop with them arguing with freight liner and arguing with Detroit and trying to get the problem fixed. I hadn't made first trip out it broke. It actually broke down and I spent Thanksgiving weekend on the state line between Tennessee and Virginia, so getting repaired there just a few days after I got it back out of the shop there, the same thing, check engine light came on again, finally wound up putting a whole new one box on it that didn't fix it, and so then they replaced the wiring harness to it and then after that I didn't have any more problems until after 700,000 miles, so I got over 400,000 miles out of it without any trouble. After they put the brand new one box and wiring harness on it,

Todd Dills: His trusted dealer rep on that sale is now solely a new truck salesman, Viaille said, though he might be expected to make an exception in Viaille’s next purchase, the Class Clown also noted.

Doug Viaille: He said, ‘I don't think I'll sell any more used trucks.’ I can certainly understand why, because it was a nerve wracking experience for all of us, for all concerned

Todd Dills: That brought up what might be his central piece of advice for new and or aspiring owners outside of the warning about lease purchase deals noted up at the top of the podcast

Doug Viaille: When your repair bills start going up toward the end of a truck's lifespan, you need to look real closely at that because there's a pitfall there that it winds up a little bit at a time spending all the money that you've saved up that you should be making a down payment on your next truck with. So you don't want to fall into that pitfall either. I'm getting right up to the point where I'm going to have to make a decision concerning that here in the very near future

Todd Dills: Wisdom, again, born of experience. Hard won as it were.

Doug Viaille: It's kind of expensive wisdom, but yeah.

Todd Dills: Here's big thanks to February trucker the month Doug Viaille for his time, for certain. Viaille is in the running for Overdrive's 2024 Trucker The Year award, along with independent Leslie Bitterman, Trucker of the Month for January. The program has been sponsored this year by Commercial Vehicle Group, well-known among owner-operators for its Bostrom Seating brand. As I noted up top, the winner of this year’s award, we're happy to report, will receive a prize pack from the sponsor that will include a variety of prizes, enough for a new seat among them. So get on over to OverdriveOnline.com/toptrucker and get your nomination in today. Nominate your own business up to three trucks there, or put forward different exemplary owner you admire. That's exactly how owner-operator Viaille got into consideration. Nominated by good friend and fellow owner, Shawn Mitchell. Hope to see your name in the running. That's overdriveonline.com/toptrucker. I'll post the link to that in the show notes for the podcast that you can find that wherever you're listening. Overdrive Radio is on all the big podcasting platforms from Apple and Google to Spotify, SoundCloud, and so many others. Big thanks for listening.