Surviving? Who’s making it
Trucking has seen better times. Here's how some OOIDA members are making it...

Howard “Butch” Turner
Largo, FL

It’s kind of like housewives clipping coupons. Every owner-operator has to practice ways of saving money in good times and bad times. Money management is the key to it.

A good owner-operator makes more than $100,000 a year. There’s a lot of money flying around and you’ve got to track it. I opened up a savings account, a joint account and my road account; nobody gets into my road account except me. I transfer money into the joint account, and Kathleen (his other half) puts money into the savings account. I have $150 taken out of each settlement into a savings for a new truck and truck maintenance. When fuel prices went up, I trimmed all the fat, paid off all the installment accounts, and got rid of all the credit card accounts.

It’s all cash. Cash flow is very important. Once you’ve got your cash flow going and you monitor your accounts, you’ve got it made. I’m not a penny pincher, but I got rid of frivolous spending. I go for quality; I don’t buy seconds or secondhand. If it’s not top quality, then I don’t get it or I wait and get it later. If you don’t buy quality, you have to buy three of something and it costs more in the long run.

I’ve heard guys say the wife handles it all; you’re passing responsibility to someone who is not out on the road looking at fuel prices, tires, maintenance, etc. She’s not thinking freight rates, etc. She’s thinking of groceries, the kids, getting the carpet cleaned and the car washed. You have to manage that money. Consolidate, get rid of credit cards and keep the cash flow up.

You can do all this, but the main thing is you’ve got to work. I’m from Alabama. My great-granddaddy told me a long time ago, a man can walk up to a section of land that needs plowing, think of all he can plant, but he’s got to plow the field. He can wish, hope and pray about it, but nothing happens until he hitches up the mule. You’ve got to work. I’ve got to stay out longer, run those two extra loads when business is hot. I’m not going to leave that money on the highway and go home. I’m not going to do that just to own a truck.

You read about 200,000 trucks being repossessed in the last year or so. Maybe those truckers shouldn’t have owned trucks. When times get bad and you have to get tough, watch that money, organize it, keep your cash flow up, keep those wheels rolling, and stay out another week and a half.

You don’t have to live like a pauper and eat pork and beans and crackers. I go first class, maintain quality of life and comfort, and still managed to save $23,000 and make truck payments on time, and I’m not a genius. Manage money, use common sense, work hard, don’t let them beat you.

Stay away from negative people. Keep a positive attitude and stay motivated. You don’t want to hear negatives. If 50 guys got their truck repossessed, I don’t want to hear why. My mind stays on what I want on the next truck, what color. I’m not worried about the money I’m losing or how to make a truck payment. Once you’ve got your money organized and your cash flow, all you’ve got to do is keep the truck rolling. You’ve got to work, run those two extra loads.

If the carrier you’re leased to is owner-operator oriented, or if your carrier is an owner-operator or if he started as a diesel mechanic, he knows what I’m going through and he is not going to let me go down the tube or let me lose my truck. He’ll make sure I get all the miles and all the opportunities to make the money I need to make. I am leased to Pullen Brothers. Jerry Pullen was paying owner-operators the fuel surcharge before anybody ever heard about it. If you’re not with a good carrier, get with one.

I’ve been with Pullen Brothers for eight years because if I give him a good days work, he gives me a good day’s pay. Common sense.

I stay out of truckstops as much as I can except for fuel and showers. But I can’t live on “Heater” meals and deli sandwiches all the time. Also, you should know where all the Wal-Marts, Waffle Houses, etc. are located.

Jim and Frieda Johns
Houtzdale, PA

In an issue of LL I read a letter from Amy Shatrick – her question was how is anyone making it? She really hit a nerve. Going up and down these highways I just can’t believe some of the rides you see out here. Our rig is nicer than the next, all chromed up. But Amy Shatrick is right, how do you do it?

Much of it is common sense. If you look at some of these magazines, carriers are only paying 80-83 cents per mile. We do business as Double J Transport and we’re leased to Classic Motor Lines out of Philipsburg, PA. I think we do better than most at 92 cents per mile and all that’s including deadhead. We used to haul flatbeds and being from central Pennsylvania, “garbage” is in, but we chose not to haul it. So we hauled steel and lumber, pipe, etc. When fuel took a jump and everyone was “cutting” rates, we just couldn’t do it. The maintenance, insurance, etc. was just not worth it. So we sold the flatbeds and have only the responsibility of our tractor. We are now hauling a dry van and it’s not ours. Mile for mile, I believe we are better off. But figure it out. How do you live? We bought a truck to make a living, not to live in it!

A driver who will run illegal just to get a load is ridiculous! That’s what hurts! When you have to sit around and wait to load and unload, which takes away precious driving time and rest time, but it still needs to be there in the morning – they do it. These drivers are not “Superman” or “Superwoman.” Just say “no,” and make the delivery later in the day. I believe if everyone just would really run legal, rates would have to go up.

Truckers who have their own authority make more, I understand that, but then again, you have more responsibility, hope you get paid, more paperwork and so on. We have hauled for percentage and per mile, which is the best? Who knows?

Trucking has provided us with our income for 32 years. It allowed me to stay home and raise my children. My husband has never stayed away all week. We were always fortunate enough to have him home every other night. God has been good to us. We will never be rich (financially), but we are blessed beyond riches in other ways. We have our health, food on the table, a roof over our heads and we are loved.

LaDonna Salo
Rossville, GA

I’ve been trucking almost 30 years. I started out hauling household goods for Republic Van Lines in 1972, then tried hauling produce, grain, tankers and a little bit of everything. I drove for Yellow Freight before I bought my truck in December 1995 and went back to hauling household goods. I was leased to Stevens Worldwide Van Lines for six years and just signed on with Tantara Group.

Now, my truck wasn’t one of those shiny new rigs with a custom-built sleeper, but that didn’t keep me from making money. In fact, it helped by keeping my truck payments low and my profit margin high.

I think that’s why I can say I’m successful. Because I started with a used truck with low payments, paid the truck off, stretched the frame and built a sleeper, all a little at a time.

I’ve put at least $200,000 into transforming an old ugly truck into an “Optical Illusion.”

Hard work had a lot to do with it. Furniture is not the easiest job, especially for a woman. I hire guys and take the team in, pack, and do everything the men movers do. I think women have more confidence in women moving their property and can sympathize.

I have a 100 percent customer rating at Stevens, plus awards, etc. I take a little more time, but when I move somebody, most are happy.

Like any other owner-operator, I try to buy the fuel where it’s the most reasonable but you know I’m having the same problem as everybody else. It’s really cutting into my profit. I’ve lowered my speed and increased my fuel mileage. I never thought I’d see the day when I’d slow down. It’s time, fuel and labor that are my major costs.

Lumpers, for example. During hard times, lumpers that don’t want to work, hide in closets, and talk on cell phones for an hour in a bathroom. Everybody wants to get paid but nobody wants to work for it. They think we’re making a fortune and they want too much money.

My husband is a dispatcher for Watkins & Sons and now is celebrating his 20th anniversary there. I met him, however, when he was an owner-operator. He could not make any money at all. It takes a lot of determination and a lot of drive to get out here and keep spending 25 days per month on the road.

To survive, you must have determination, and above everything, find a company you can survive with. Everybody knows you cannot survive on 80 cents a mile.

Donald & Roxanne Tracy
Homosassa Springs, FL

My wife and I are owner-operators, leased to Baggett Transportation, Birmingham, AL. We are with the A&E division and primarily haul ammunition and explosives for the Department of Defense. While we do seem to spend a lot of time waiting to load/unload, we do not have to do the work of the shipper/receiver for them. In a lot of cases, we don’t even have to open or close the trailer doors. We don’t have to put up with the “bs” of “wrong size pallets” or “wrong stack pattern” or “stacked too high” or “not high enough” and we don’t have to worry about whether or not the load is secured correctly in the trailer. That is the job of the shipping crew, and is checked by a government inspector before the doors are sealed and the load is released.

Hauling explosives is not for everybody, and does require team operation in most cases, but we really enjoy it. And in order to be successful, you have to enjoy it. I have been trucking for 27 years, with a total of eight and one-half years as an owner-operator and I can truthfully say that, as long as my wife can handle being on the road with me, that is what we will be doing. As of April 23, 2001, we have been teaming together for 18 years.

Know exactly how much money you are making and remember, you own a business. You have to be making a profit, not just wages.
–Robert Esler, Taylor, MI

Don’t be lazy. Beat on more doors. Don’t take the first, second or even third load until you find one that will make you money.
–Willie Gibbs, Rialto, CA

Stay a jump ahead. Know what’s going on in the industry so you can make sound decisions and business forecasts. Anticipate how freight, fuel, etc. will react to events. 
–Chris Songer, Lee’s Summit, MO

Check out the credit ratings of the people you are doing business with. Make sure you’ll get paid. 
–Linda Veith, Orlando, FL

Don’t resist progress and new ways to do business. If there’s a better way to do the job, find it and learn it or trucking will pass you by. You hear truckers say “I’m going to do it my way and that’s that.” The world of trucking is a fast place to work and if you don’t change with it, it’s going to just pass you up and wave “bye bye.” 
–Chris Songer, Lee’s Summit, MO

My great-granddaddy told me, a man can walk up to a section of land that needs plowing, think of all he can plant, but he’s got to plow the field. He can wish, hope and pray about it, but nothing happens until he hitches the mule. 
–Howard “Butch” Turner

It’s a lonely business and a single owner-operator can get easily discouraged. This dulls your business sense and makes you more vulnerable to being duped or used badly. Stay grounded. Whether it’s your family, your community, your friends, a charity, church or Trucker Buddy class, do something that keeps you balanced. 
–Ray & Joan Kasicki, Cleveland, OH

Avoid spending too much time at truckstops. You can save $50 to $60 a week.
–Linda Vieth, Orlando, FL

We can’t afford to pay $45 or $50 in tolls, so if the company wants us to run in New Jersey or on other toll roads, we ask for an authorization from the company to run the pike or whatever. And 95 percent of the time, the company will pay the tolls. But if you don’t ask, you won’t get it. 
–Frieda Johns, Houtzdale, PA

Watch your phone bills, review your fuel bills and all items charged to credit cards. 
–Ray & Joan Kasicki, Cleveland, OH

Drive safely, handle yourself safely. In other words, don’t get hurt. Injured drivers can’t drive and if you can’t drive, you can’t pay bills. Stay healthy. Eat right, exercise and don’t be a stranger to your doctor and dentist. Pay attention to your daily hygiene habits. Preventive maintenance means you as well as your truck.
–Dee Jones, Lone Jack, MO

I hear people say “I don’t haul wire” or “I don’t go to New York City.” When their good business goes down, they don’t know what to do. Know how to get out of the rut, get versatile and get paid good money for doing so. Be willing to go if the price is right. Seize the opportunity when it’s there. Take the word “no” out of your vocabulary. I’ll do it, but my company knows they will have to pay me very well to do it.
–Ray Kasicki, Cleveland, OH

You must be involved in making your industry better and you must have a credible voice in Washington. You must keep informed and you must keep yourself aware of what’s going on in the trucking industry. Join OOIDA. It takes five minutes to join and costs $45 a year and goes a long way in giving you a fighting chance of making it in this business. 
–Paul Sasso, Edgewater, FL