Twists, Turns and Terrors of Small Business Ownership

Garden Grove, California

When it comes to owning a small business, there is often no right answer.

Twists, Turns and Terrors of Small Business Ownership

This photo of Mt. Shasta in California was taken last year. We want to see the view again in the Westcoast mirror, behind us.

This photo of Mt. Shasta in California was taken last year. We want to see the view again in the Westcoast mirror, behind us.We are “sittin’ and spendin’,” not earning, in Southern California, a condition small business owners try to avoid. Some would say that it’s kind of our own fault, but it has been worsened by a Westcoast freight drought. We have analyzed virtually every load that’s come up, and called on a few, which have subsequently vanished, either canceled or were only a hope and a prayer.

Excited about 2013, we launched ourselves out of Florida in the middle of March after eight down weeks that included tractor work, taxes, reorganizing, planning and vacation.

Our first stop was Jacksonville where we installed an EOBR, an Electronic OnBoard Recorder. The dreaded black box. While it makes life easier, eliminating paper logs, mailing deadlines and addition errors, I disagree — separate post coming — that it a safety tool. The mandatory use of the technology is inevitable because too many big interests, carriers and technology giants, have invested too much money and want their return.

We decided to do it for two reasons. One, because Landstar offers the Qualcomm unit and installation free for its current Owner Operators. And two, because all new leases to Landstar must install the EOBR. I feel that it won’t be too long before Landstar reaches a critical mass and makes the EOBR mandatory for all trucks. They say no, but corporations change policies all the time. If the policy changes the free enticement could end too.

From Jacksonville, we deadheaded, meaning we paid for our own fuel, to Louisville, Kentucky to the truck show to get information on products we are investigating, a passenger seat, a camera system, the Kenworth T-680 and to talk to Fleet Air Filter. The Alabama company deserves a commendation. The foam, washable air filter, the size of a small kitchen garbage can, has improved our fuel mileage about eight percent. We had our first filter replaced free of charge when it developed a crack in the foam seal. The replacement didn’t fit properly. Confronted with our problem, the company owner came to our tractor and replaced it again. This product and company is a good investment.

From Louisville, again on our own dime, which we had planned for, we continued our deadhead to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to buy our trailer, a 51 foot Fontaine stepdeck. We expected the process to take a week, but Steve Bailey at Superior Trailers took care of every detail, the purchase — separate post coming on the advantages of paying cash for capital equipment — installing a dump valve for the rear axle, adding eight aluminum wheels because a girl needs a little bling even on her trailer, tag and title and compiling the paperwork to lease the trailer onto Landstar. We were finished in less than two days.

The same day a team load appeared, Wichita, Kansas to Garden Grove, California. We jumped on it. We tend to be leery of taking freight into California now because it’s harder to get out. The state is closing its doors to most trucks through its new Air Resources Board pollution regulations.

Our engine is 2006. We can no longer pick up freight at the ports or rail yards and as of December 31, 2013 we are illegal anywhere in the state unless we install an $18,000 Diesel Particulate Filter on our engine. We are not sure what we will do. Not only are these filter fixes unreliable, they reduce our fuel economy in every state and province we drive in. It’s part of the reason we bought a trailer to have more freight options if we pass on California bound freight.

We took the load because it delivered Thursday afternoon and it was the end of the month and the end of the quarter. We thought someone will need a team truck or need to move something immediately. We also hoped to get through Oregon to beef up storage on the tractor and the new trailer.

The weekend came, and went, without freight.

We did enjoy our time, visiting my cousin Luis, who I last saw in Argentina 20 years ago when he was seven, and meeting his wife. They are studying and working in Los Angeles.

Back at the truck Monday we were serious about freight. And nothing. There have been almost no loads all week. The available loads paid so little, when the agent and Landstar took their cut, we covered our deadhead, we barely had anything left after fuel.

There were loads out of Tucson, Arizona to Utah but add in the extra cost of pulling almost 40,000 pounds up the mountains and we’re paying the shippers to move their freight. If we deadhead, we must also consider what happens if the load vanishes, by the time we arrive, which happens. In one case, we accepted a load, but the shipper changed his mind on price and the load was reposted for less. Not a good sign.

Our sin is that we are breaking the First Commandment of an Owner/Operator. We are not following the freight. We want to go to Oregon to get this work done.

Every day we debate: should we go or should we stay. Should we drive now to Oregon, pay for it ourselves and get the work done and be free to follow the freight. Or should we wait to see if we can cover our deadhead, fuel and weekly deductions for insurance, permits and license plates with paying freight. Or should we take a load anywhere just as long as it is East.

So, here we are, on Friday. We’ve:

  • de-cluttered the inside of the tractor,
  • eaten three meals at the TA, because parking costs $20 a day or the equivalent receipt in merchandise,
  • used up most of our 10 free shower credits,
  • been to Target, Trader Joe’s and Starbucks,
  • tried to price check a Legacy Silver passenger seat, ultra leather black, swivel, rubber bellows and arm rests, but so far have received no return calls from Vanguard Truck Center, Rush Truck Center or TEC Equipment in Portland, Oregon, I guess they don’t need the sale,
  • cleaned the dirt and multi-grain bread crumbs out of the ultra shift transmission shifter with a Q-tip,
  • spent $1,600 on a camera system, the truck show special ends today, to stand guard over the tractor and trailer
  • and watched the first season, 13 episodes, of House of Cards with Kevin Spacey, about a corrupt, self-serving, wheeling and dealing Congressman and his wife, which I LOVED, even though it made me feel slightly sick in the way something you know is true leaves you feeling sickened.

And we’ve made a decision. Since we are so close to Oregon, close in trucker terms, not for four-wheelers, we will deadhead there Saturday morning because I don’t want to come back West without a return load East. It will cost us $350 in fuel, but we will get our work done and then we will follow the freight to 49 states, including Alaska, my destination goal this year, 10 provinces and three territories, wherever it pays, we will go.

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