Are You There Yet?!?!

Carter Lake, Iowa, snuggled up to Omaha, Nebraska

Air freight is ruining my fun!

The good news is that the wheels are turnin’ and we’re definitely earnin’. The bad news is that we are no longer Gentleman Truckers, we are hammer-down, pedal-to-the-metal, balls-to-the-walls, no-stopping-til-we-get-there truck drivers! I miss Schneider and its 50 miles per hour trip planning speed.

We understood that air freight required that once we pick up a load there would be no stopping for a sit down meal or a shower, but I didn’t think I’d have to learn to power piddle.

To understand my frustration, here’s how transit times work and things we consider when trip planning.

Our Schneider truck was governed at 65 mph, on the cruise it was 66 – don’t ask, I don’t know why. Over 18 months of loads at that speed we averaged 54 miles per hour. Our routine was dictated by the load. If it was a super-hot expedited load, we did not shower or stop for sit down meals enroute.

But if we had a time on a load and we were passing through a spot we wanted to visit, we’d stop for an hour or two. I also had time for a full hour and then maybe an extra hour of breaks in a 12 hour shift – you’ll remember my penchant for naps. We did take up to 30 minutes to calmly and methodically switch drivers, do the pre-trip inspection, update logs, organize sunglasses and music. We were never late on pick up or delivery. We never stopped for long periods of time, unless we had to wait several hours to deliver, then we timed our arrival. Always we balanced the time spent on the load with our goal of 5,000 paid miles a week. If the wheels ain’t turnin’, we ain’t earnin’.

As owner operators we have an additional consideration in our trip planning.
We pay the fuel bill. The way to increase profit is to stretch our fuel dollar, the slower the truck moves, the less we need to feed it. We want to drive at 62 mph, which is where we make money. The benefit of saving money on fuel for a team is staggering. For every one mile per gallon that we improve our fuel mileage we can increase our profit $18,000 in one year – money that simply is not spent. The way the fuel surcharges work, by maintaining a high mileage truck, if the price of fuel goes up, our profits go up. The number one way to increase fuel mileage – SLLLLOOOOOOOW DOWNNNNN! Traveling at a top speed of 62 mph, we are averaging over the past nine months about 51 mph.

Our carrier determines its transit times based on the “blended speed limit” of the route. Just because the speed limit is 70 and 75, I don’t think that means that highway safety planners expected big trucks to be operated at the top of the limit. It’s true, many do. Speed limits are for cars in the BEST of conditions, which trust me, even in the summer is not everyday.

It’s documented fact, the higher the speed, the higher the accident rate, regardless of trucks, cars or motorcycle. The higher the speed, the longer the stopping distance. The higher the speed, the slower the reaction time.

Drive faster, the truck shakes. It’s more tiring. Hit a pothole and the sleeping co-driver is airborne. Driving fast is simply damn uncomfortable all the way around. Driving fast wears the truck down and it wears our bodies down.

We’re learning that the real name of the game is not miles, miles miles. It’s how do you make and save the most money for the least miles traveled.

I’ve heard that outside drivers that carry our freight have a 47 mph trip planning speed, the same speed used by UPS and FedEx.  Schneider’s is 50 mph.

Here are a few examples of our transit times:

The Columbus, Ohio to Phoenix, Arizona run is 1,937 paid miles. We are given 34 hours, average speed 56.97 mph, through 70 mile an hour Missouri and Texas and 75 mile an hour Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona. In that time, we switch drivers at least three times, we fuel at least once, and we stop to use the restroom facilities. In Arizona, most of the Rest Areas are closed thanks to government incompetence, so pit stops must be made at truck stops where it is now more congested because drivers can no longer cruise into a rest area and be gone in five-to-ten minutes.

We usually end up doing the trip in 39 hours, which is a trip planning speed of 50 mph. Something always happens on the road. Our last trip to Phoenix, outside Columbus, a truck carrying propane caught fire shutting down I-70 for an hour. At 47 mph, the trip is 41 hours.

Another run is Columbus to Dallas, Texas, 1,071 paid miles and 19 hours running time, 56.36 miles per hour average. A trip planning speed of 50 mph provides a transit time of 21.5 hours, at 47 mph it’s 23 hours. To me the extra two hours is small in the grand scheme of things, but makes a difference when we’re pulling a 40-ton rocket down the highway.

Dallas to Tulsa, Oklahoma, 251 paid miles, 4.5 hours running time for an average speed of 55.77 mph which includes stop lights and speed zones down to 35 mph from Colbert, Oklahoma to  Tulsa. Forget peeing, no time. At 50 mph, it’s a five hour trip and at 47 mph it’s 52.5 hours, but it provides enough time to make a sane bathroom stop.

Interestingly, our load to Omaha was 804 paid miles with a transit time of 17 hours – what gives? I thought, that’s positively luxurious. Sure enough, it’s 47 mph, left over from the days when Illinois was a 55 mile per hour state. And it was a great trip, we both drove, I stopped twice for 15 minutes each. Greg stops totaled one hour, including one at Iowa 80 to pick up a system, which ballances the air between each set of dual drive tires – $250 – which we’re told will extend the life of the $4,000 worth of Michelin tires that we purchased.

We arrived one hour and 15 minutes early!

Ironically, our Company’s focus on running times comes when the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is clamping down on safety and taking the trucking companies to task. The trucking industry has developed over the decades on a simple principle: The Driver did it!

If the trailer tire is flat, the driver did it, he didn’t inspect, he didn’t get it fixed. Not taking into account that sometimes the carrier won’t spend the money to fix it – this has happened to us. Or if the driver runs out of hours to legally drive, it’s the driver’s fault, not the shipper who kept the driver on the dock for several hours past his appointment time and then would not let him stay on the premises for his 10-hour break. We sat at a ToysRUs dock in Ohio for almost 10 hours, but as a team, Greg had his break sitting at the dock and drove away when I ran out of hours. We earned less than $50 together in detention time. At least we got a few bucks, many drivers get nothing for sitting on the dock.

Under this year’s new FMCSA rules, vehicle safety violations including accidents will now count against the carrier as well as the driver. Because the carrier has the power to determine the quality of tractors and trailers and the carrier and shippers determine the running times.

Our position on running times, should the “on-time police” as one of the other drivers calls Fleet Management, is: We don’t stop to visit friends, gamble, eat, shower or shop at outlet centers, but we do stop to pee as often as needed, we take all the time we need to pre-trip trailers, fuel and fill out logs. Once all this is done, we get there when we get there.

Hurrying, Schneider impressed upon us, leaves the door open to forgetfulness, mistakes and injuries.

So far, we’ve heard nothin.

But we are left asking, what now? We never envisioned ourselves as pants on truckers. While we’re prepared to drive steadily to
move hot loads, we want to have some loads where we make short stops, like we did in Parrot, Georgia to see the town-under-restoration. Or stop in Marfa, Texas for an hour and have a burrito and peak inside a gallery window, like we did. Or stop for lunch at an interesting looking diner, like we did at Tabbert’s in Rosendale, Wisconsin or the Hungry House in Sarcoxie, Missouri We want to take loads to interesting places so we can spend a day or so looking around, like we did our first trip to Indianapolis, Indiana where they have 24 miles of bike paths, which ends at the art gallery.

We are doing this as an interesting way to fill up the retirement funds.

We don’t regret leasing onto the Carrier. We are making money. We have paid for about $25,000 in upgrades and repairs to the truck from our settlements – in cash. We are earning money while we learn about owning and operating a truck. We had free parking for three weeks while we popped off to Australia on vacation. Overall, we like the company. We aren’t going to do anything rash. We’re going to give ourselves a year to think about our next move.

We have three compelling options, delivered to  us by three interesting husband/wife teams, who are enjoying more money for less miles and a LOT more free time than we are.

It comes down to specialization. Stay tuned. I’ll explain more in the days ahead.

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