Ugh!

2009 October 20
by Hedon

Well no longer have any need to worry about other drivers making us look bad. Since the last time we were able to get online we have done a respectable amount of running. Let’s see…

  • Last time we were online we were sitting in Sacramento.
  • Then we hauled butt down to LA to pick up a preloaded trailer. Thirty minutes to drop our empty and hook to the new trailer and we were off again.
  • Ran straight to Hartford, CT and the longest we stopped on the whole trip was thirty minutes to get fuel and switch drivers.
  • Delivered in Hartford, grabbed the world’s fastest showers, ate a burger and collapsed into the bunks for ten hours non-moving sleep.
  • Then into Boston in the wee hours of the morning to pickup the load we are on now. It delivers tomorrow in St Paul, MN.

So that’s 3,450 miles to Connecticut, then a twelve hour break, then another 1,450 miles headed back west to Minnesota and the whole thing will be done in less than five days. Which probably explains why I’m all brain-dead and such. I know there are many teams out there that would give a lot to grab these sorts of runs… sigh… we’re just not one of them.

On the bright side it is looking like a fairly good paycheck. Which is good cause we are looking at trucks again. I’m not sure what our plan is now though since for years and years my plan has been to buy a truck and lease on with LandStar, but that isn’t looking like it’s going to happen now. I’m really unimpressed with what LandStar has been doing to their van drivers in the past few months.

Freight is down everywhere and virtually every trucking company has seriously lost big income except for LandStar. They significantly lowered the percentage they pay their van drivers so instead of the company losing a ton of money it has been the guys driving for them that has been taking the huge hit. I guess that is a company’s choice, but it doesn’t mean I want to be the little guy taking the hit so that LandStar’s shareholders still get a good stock price in the middle of the biggest freight downturn in living memory. No, thanks.

Also from everyone I have talked to it looks like LandStar’s van loads have dried up. So there just isn’t much freight available for the drivers to fight over. So they can lower the rate per mile at the same time because the drivers are so desperate. When you are already giving up 38% of the linehaul to the company, a load that pays $1.15 per mile means that the truck is only making $0.71 per mile. So out of that you are paying fuel, insurance, base plates, truck payment… oh and a little thing called driver pay. Nah… there’s no driver pay in a $1.15 per mile load.

Frankly, I’m wondering what the heck LandStar is doing to earn their 38% of the linehaul for van drivers. Their freight has dried up and their rates are in the crapper. It’s a damn shame because they used to be one of the most highly respected companies out there, but lately it’s hard to find anyone in the van division that has a good thing to say about them.

So unless things change big-time LandStar is out. That doesn’t mean that we won’t buy our own truck just that we are going to have to rethink our plans. Right now we are holding off  –  waiting to buy just when freight volumes and rates start heading back up. I’m guessing that will probably start happening in the early spring. But who knows.

On the bright side, if TWMNBN keeps running us like this we will either be long dead or able to buy the truck with cash money… and pick up a nice trailer on the side. :)

3 Responses
  1. 2009 October 20

    Take this for what it’s worth – not much – since I’m a company driver and do not have any plans to buy my own…..

    It sure seems to me that dry vans and reefers aren’t the way to go. There is just too many large companies that cut the rates. That happens in every area, but those two are the worst, IMHO.

    Plus, most large OTR companies that lease on owner operators are too competitive as well, particularly if you buy a truck through them. Lots of heartache there. Many seem to think that they have to make their money on the backs of their drivers and lessees.

    The ones that seem more insulated are the more specialized haulers – and that covers a large multitude of commodities and equipment to haul them. I’m certainly not recommending, say, flatbeds – they are about as bad as reefers. I doubt you want to be tarping or chaining down loads, either, so you’d have to look for something more in tune with what you are willing to do. Tankers, pneumatics, just in time regional circuits – that’s more along the lines of what I’m thinking. And lease on with the smaller companies who have a solid bottom line and steady, specific freight. If they have to use brokers to keep you moving, they aren’t any better than anyone else.

    Of course, the problems are that more specialized hauling is susceptible to the whims of the market in a more immediate sense – if they lose a contract, you’re out, period. Plus, regional or smaller lines may not have the work necessary for a team to make it. Smaller lines that do pay well and have high standards also tend to look for experienced owner operators, not just experienced drivers who just became owner operators. Finding these freight companies is like looking for a needle in a haystack, too. They don’t need to advertise for new blood because they get all they can handle through positive word of mouth.

    I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir – nothing you don’t already know – but maybe hearing it from someone else might help you two.

    Back in my grain hauling days, I always figured if I were to break in and try to haul grain, I’d have picked up the cheapest, most reliable ex fleet cabover I could find to run. I’d have it paid for in no time, and then I’d be in a better position to ascertain how I’d upgrade. If it shelled out, I wouldn’t have been out that much money. I’d worry about the chrome drenched Paccar product later. The corollary in today’s truck market is the multitude of used Freightliners and Volvos – set up for fleet requirements and not at all desirable for owner operators. Not that much different than you two have been driving, I’m sure. Lots of those trucks have warranties. A truck that’s had just one driver will tend to be far more reliable than the one that’s broken in all the newbies, so a complete history is necessary.

    I hope I’m not coming across as pedantic or born with some sort of superior knowledge – if I knew so much, I’d have pulled the trigger and made it myself a long long time ago.

    • 2009 October 20

      Jeffro,

      You are seriously singing our song, brother! I would say we agree with most of what you said here.

      We would never for a single instant consider a lease-purchase plan with any company. I don’t know how drivers can do it. What I basically think when I think about it is… ok I lease my truck from you and miles are great in the beginning… then after I make many many payments on-time my miles mysteriously drop off and I can’t afford to make my payments anymore… then you take the truck back and lease it out to the next guy who gets plenty of miles in the beginning… then his miles suddenly drop off…

      I’m not sure how we need to specialize, but I agree that we need to do it. You’re right about the skateboarding! A person couldn’t have read much around here and still thought we’d be willing to get out there in 117 degree heat and chain and tarp a load. :) Personally, I don’t know how they do it. And I agree that refer doesn’t seem to be in any better shape than van right now. Over-sized is out because of the same physical requirements as flat-bedding that we couldn’t possibly handle and all the special knowledge required that we simply don’t have. I wouldn’t mind tankers much but they rarely seem to be team-driven.

      So it seems that our best feature is our ability to run timed-transit. Oh I know we bitch and moan about it all the time, but we really are quite good at it. We can average 58 mph over a 3,200 mile trip in a truck governed at 65 mph. Course we’re kinda stinky when we get there. :)

      I agree about buying the oldest ugliest shaker out there to start out. I wouldn’t even dream of looking at a Paccar product right now… or ever probably. We aren’t really too enthused with keeping up with the Jones so chrome means nothing to us. Besides, I can’t stand that big old long hood. I don’t know how they can even see what they’re running over with that big old extended hood in the way. :)

      We have been debating for months between a Volvo 770 and a Columbia but the more I look around the more I think we will go with the Columbia. The price for parts and labor is just so much higher on the Volvo that I can’t justify it. I would love to find a 12.7 Detroit 60 that is still in good shape and build from there.

      Oh course none of this matters if freight doesn’t start to come back up. We’re just sitting tight until available freight and increasing rates justify making the move.

  2. 2009 October 20

    Another brand to consider would be Navistar. I drive a 9900i with an Acert Cat, and it’s far, far quieter and tighter than the Freightliner Classics I drove earlier. As far as overall NVH is concerned, Kenworth has them all beat (including Petes), IMHO. My company runs mostly W900 models with Cat power – but we’re also day cabs with knuckle boom cranes frame mounted behind the cabs for hauling and delivering tanks my company manufactures.

    I’ve got to admit a bias against Detroit power. My experiences with the two cycle 8v71 and 8v92 motors was less than memorable in a positive sense. Some of our older trucks when I hired on had the 12.7s, too, and they underwhelmed me. The Cummins motors of a few years ago had problems with injectors, and now Cats are right out. We’ve got a couple of ISX motors – it will be interesting to see how they work out. They do pull better and get better mileage than the Cats – the Cummins and Cats we run are rated at 550hp. Navistar is going to be putting out the Cat block with their proprietary induction and exhaust system – time will tell there. We’re not looking at new trucks at all right now…

    But the 12.7s are comparatively cheap to fix and less prone to Cat’s head problems and Cummins’ injector problems. Cat’s “purging” system is pretty buggy, too. I just hate the Detroit’s lack of low end torque. One of the folksy maxims “back in the day” for Detroits was: “To properly drive a Detroit, one must put one’s hand in the door frame, slam the door on that hand, then you’ll be in the proper frame of mind to drive that Detroit.” Of course, you realize this has been edited for language somewhat! ;)

    All that aside, the truck is just a tool for making money. Some are more efficient at that job than others, style and desirability not withstanding.

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