It’s all about respect
A legit career in hotshottin' requires thick skin and business savvy

By Tim Barton
Special to 
Land Line

It may be that the size of a driver’s ego correlates to the size of his ride, with drivers’ egos bulging at every upward tick in vehicle dimension.

Inside the universe of cars are distinct prejudices, and each group has a standardized set of attitudes.

The ante gets raised as more of these groups interact, and prejudices internal to a group can fast be forgotten when something bigger and badder looms on the big road.

Consider the case of Richard Jones, a hand for three years now, and a bona fide minister, who happens to run a hotshot for TSD Transportation out of Texarkana, TX.

Jones has given some thought to the attitude of truck drivers in full-size trucks toward hotshots. Like Rodney Dangerfield, he “can’t get no respect,” he says, and he doesn’t understand it.

“We’re out here trying to make a living like everybody else,” Jones said.

And while it may be unusual for a labor-intensive industry like trucking to begrudge one’s fellows the right to earn their keep, it is not unheard of. It is a competitive industry, and niche players are becoming more common. In some cases this erodes the freight base of traditional Class 8 owner-operators and fleet drivers. This is, at least, the perceived reality.

Curt Steffler, a 29-year veteran of the freight wars, has been an owner-operator for all of that time. He ran for Jones Motor out of Springdale, PA, for years, and competed with Jones’ hotshot fleet since the 1980s – until recently, when he moved to a carrier just down the road from his farm in western Pennsylvania.

“They don’t do business the way we do,” Steffler said. “They tend not to build loads. They’ll take 15,000 or 20,000 pounds and go.”

Hotshots can be powered by anything from a three-quarter or one-ton pickup to the Class 7, also known as the “Baby 8.” At the low end, gross weight is limited to 26,000 pounds while the Class 7 units can gross 54,000 pounds.

Loosely speaking, Jones said hotshots are Class 3 through Class 7 power units with gooseneck trailers. Nevertheless, a Class 7 with a step or flat has plenty of similarities to a Class 8.

This is the distinguishing characteristic of hotshots and the determining factor in the kinds of loads they take. Class 8 trucks have another 26,000 pounds of capacity and want to fill their wagons both by weight and volume in order to maximize payload.

Hotshots fill the need of shippers who do not have full loads, either by weight or volume, or both. They are also useful for pulling less-than-truckload and expedited freight of less-than-Class-8-truckload capacity. Thus, they compete with Class 8 trucks trying to build loads, either of less-than-truckload loads or partials to fill out. They will also compete for expedited freight since gross weights and volume have less meaning when such freight is available.

Jones said he needs $1.25 per mile to make a decent living, not counting fuel surcharges.

“If a guy is on with the right outfit, he can pay taxes on $70,000 a year, not counting his truck payment,” he said.

Jones started out with a one-ton pickup but switched to his 9400 International Baby 8 when he started pulling more weight and blowing up trannies.

Jones firmly believes hotshots should run legal.

But, he acknowledged that isn’t exactly how it goes with some hotshotters.

“There are plenty of guys, especially in the pickups, who run without authority and blow by scales. They’ll get a gooseneck and get on with an outfit that isn’t savvy enough to know the truck needs authority. There are mom-and-pops in hotshot work who set up shop and don’t know the rules,” he said.

Jones said plenty of drivers will run agriculture and blow by scales, as if they were hauling for their own farm.

“If they’re stopped,” he said, “they’ll just say they’re hauling for themselves.”

Hotshots in the three-quarter and one-ton range – that is, below 26,000 pounds gross – don’t need IFTA, or a “HUT,” so the lack of stickers is not suspicious, adding to their ability and willingness to run outlaw.

Jones believes this is one reason hotshots don’t get the respect of the bigger boys.

“I run 600 to 650 mile a day when I’m loaded and work as hard as anybody else out here,” Jones said. “But the outlaws ruin it for everybody by making the playing field uneven.”

He said he also believes the lack of an organized and recognizable niche industry hurts the image of hotshotters. Given the smaller hotshot trucks do not require IFTA and “HUT,” the hotshot industry as a whole is split between the smaller trucks and others. Those need more paperwork and also appear enough like their larger brethren to attract the notice of the truck police.

Jones believes the future for hotshotters is bright.

“We need more expedited freight and there needs to be more law enforcement to force the outlaws to run legal,” he said. “And the industry needs to be more organized.”

If Jones is right, it may be a while before this segment of the industry gets the respect it deserves. If democratic economies are built upon the idea of free and open competition, those who fill the specific and expanding needs of customers deserve their place in the sun.

Tim Barton may be reached at tbart7@aol.com.