2014 And The End Of A Two Year Saga

It's been a while since my last post, and some of that has to do with the busy month or so we've had, but mostly it's the culmination of two whirlwind years.  Salena and I set out to accomplish some pretty lofty goals and I'm happy to report we accomplished them!

We have had two whole years of mostly uninterrupted, steady, lucrative work.  I'd like to extend many thanks to the team at Landstar for their efforts because without them it may have been harder than it was.  I am using the two year reference because my plan to accomplish all of my goals was set in motion in January of 2013.  The end date was December 31st, 2014.  Today.

We had financial, mechanical, strategic, and life goals we were working on.  It's almost surreal that we accomplished every single one of them.  I've said before that goal accomplishment is essential in running a business.  It's imperative to set realistic goals and work toward them daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly, and even decennially.

Our business needed to increase its profits, which it did.  Our mechanical goals needed to be such that the truck's maintenance was regularly scheduled and completed.  It was.  Our financial goals were to position our business in such a way that it had the lowest overhead going into 2015, a year in which I am forecasting our highest income.  That has happened as well.

As far as life goals, we were able to structure our life around the business in such a way that prior to this year has been more difficult.  We've been able to help our friends and family with their requests and we have moved forward toward our goals outside of trucking.

Going into 2015 we are poised to enjoy a profitable, successful, and fun year that we're both looking forward to.  We have set new goals and have new challenges on the horizon.  Our business has a few new obstacles and hurdles to deal with, that we'll handle as they come, and we are going to be spending 2015 doing some new things that we have only planned to do, not knowing for sure if it would ever happen.

The easy goals help you accomplish the slightly more difficult goals, which then lead you to accomplishing the even harder goals.  All of these goals and the process of setting goals is essential to having a successful business and often, a successful life.  Although life has a way of disrupting even the easiest of goals, it's still possible to accomplish what you desire, and achieve most of what you set out to do by forging ahead and staying the course.

"Eyes on the prize" is another way of putting it.  2014 has culminated a two year run for us, and one that we will never embark on again.  We have recovered from some loss and came out smelling like roses.  I can't really go into detail on the internet, but I can say that we have achieved far more than simple goal setting.  We have achieved something I don't think anyone who becomes a trucker, ever thinks is possible.

To the readers of this blog, know that I much appreciate your attention.  Feel free to let me know if there is anything I can discuss here which might be of interest to you.  

Happy New Year's Eve everyone and thanks for being a part of our 2014.

Here's to a great 2015! 

Oh Yeah!

Guns In Trucks

Many years ago a bonded carrier could carry a gun.  Today that is no longer the case.  Today the only way you can carry a gun in your truck is if you have a permit in the state that you are carrying the gun in.

I have purchased two shotguns in my life and they were purchased solely for self defense.  One was a 12 gauge and one was a 20 gauge.  It is extremely fortunate that I never used these weapons.  If you are in a remote area and need immediate help, a gun does come in handy.  Protection of life is the most important thing a person can do.  Sometimes, simply the threat of force can ward off even the most ignorant people. 

If people think you are armed, they will most likely stay away if they were intending harm. Perhaps they will think twice if they think that they themselves may end up hurt or dead upon initiating an aggressive act. 

Not so long ago a trucker parked in a vacant lot in South Carolina.  His name was Jason Rivenburg.  He was shot to death in his truck.  Had he had a gun, he could have defended himself.  You would think that truckers, like ranchers who live in remote areas, should be able to protect themselves in remote areas by being able to carry a gun.  The odds that law enforcement can arrive in time are slim to none.

There are many drivers who carry guns out here.  Most of them are either deputies in their home towns, or are permitted to carry guns in the states that they travel through.  I'm not a fan of everyone carrying guns, but some people need them more than others.  In a country with 300 million people that has just about as many guns as there are people, its impossible to ignore the prevalence of gun ownership in our society.

The Turbo

I'm trying to do something with this truck that I've never done before:  Reach one million miles without changing the major components under the hood.  Of course, maintenance is the key.  Everything must be greased on schedule, every filter changed on schedule, and every lubricant must be sampled to check that it's doing what it's supposed to.

Most of the other drivers I talk to will regularly go through component after component.  Wearing everything out far before it should be.  We do about 100,000 miles a year.  And our max speed is 58 MPH.  We will go faster depending on what the customer demands, but on average our loads have enough time to get there at 58 MPH.  We never idle the engine and I mean NEVER!  Idling these engines is death to the internal components.  The turbo is not designed to be run at an idle.  When the engine is idling, the turbo isn't spinning at its optimal rate and the turbo just doesn't handle this for a prolonged period.

The older engines without exhaust gas recirculation handled idling much better then these new emissions compliant engines.  Without a turbo, the engine is useless.  The blades in the turbo can become pitted and the internal parts wear out.  Over time the turbo can fail.  Mine has lasted over 700,000 miles so far and it passes every inspection I throw at it.

Every 100,000 miles, I adjust the overhead valves in the head.  When I get this done, I throw the truck on the dyno.  So far at 700,000 miles, I'm still getting 70% power to the ground.  That's pretty good.  It indicates that the turbo is working and everything is chugging right along.  I could tweak the systems on the truck and tune it for more horsepower, but when the original configuration is tinkered with, it pushes the components to their limits.  This can result in more performance, but at a higher price.

There are aftermarket turbos that would yield more power, but with more wear and tear on the other internal components of the engine.  The battle is on to maintain this truck as it ages.  The last truck we had went to 1,030,000 before it completely failed, but we replaced the engine and ran that engine out another 300,000 miles before we traded it in for a new model.

As with any business its about return on investment. The longer you can successfully run the truck, the more of a return you get.   

The Future Of Trucking

If you've ever wanted to drive a truck, you'd better get on it.  One word - robots.  Elon Musk recently said that automated vehicles are 5 to 6 years away.  Trucks will follow soon afterward.  At first they will still have drivers, but over time, the drivers will go away.  That is what my crystal ball is telling me.  It stands to reason that automation has been place since the 70's in aircraft.  Equipped with several redundant systems that will take over if one of them fails.

The pilot still needs to be there to make sure that the automation is doing what it's supposed to, but the more time rolls by, the more equipment becomes automatic.

Power steering, automatic transmissions, GPS, Lidar, Radar, proximity sensors, electronic engine controls, and imaging recognition technology that allows cameras to read and remember what they read. Finally the brain that combines all of these features into what's called the autopilot.

Tesla motors recently launched their latest product, a car with limited autopilot.  The big cost of adding autopilot to your Tesla?  A whopping $1400.00!  That's it!  So the technology is on the immediate horizon.  Like I started this post saying, if you want to be a good ole Trucker, you better get in now.

In 15 years, there may no longer be truckers as we know them today.

Fuel Planning

Before you ever turn the key and hit the road, you need to know where you will be going to buy fuel along your route.  There are a couple of websites out there that simplify this process:


Fuel Advice

These are the two I've used so far.  Promiles is the more expensive one, yet more meaty and more decked out with all the bells and whistles.  FuelAdvice is simpler, less expensive, and a bit flawed, but it yields similar results to Promiles if not identical when it comes to where to stop to get fuel.

There are a few factors when buying fuel such as fuel tax, fuel price, amount of fuel purchased, and what fuel stops lie ahead.  The best way to do this is to run the fuel route every day because prices change.  You need to know your fuel tank capacity, fuel mileage, and your projected fuel mileage which is different from your standard fuel mileage.  I'm saying projected fuel mileage, but there are a few factors that will change your actual mileage.  Are you driving empty or loaded?  Will you be going through mountains or flat lands?  Will you be going uphill into the wind or downhill with the wind?  Will there be a side wind the entire trip?  Will your load be oversized therefor allowing less stops to maximize driving time during daylight?

Will you have enough time for multiple stops or do you need to stop once and top off the tank so as not to be wasting time at truck stops? 

Your fuel tank capacity is written on the fuel tank, however even though I have 2-140 gallon tanks, I can never get more than 240 gallons, because of how the tank holds the fuel.  I've never had a truck that could fill the amount of fuel that the tank's rated capacity said it could.

Fuel tax and fuel prices are compared in real time on these websites and they have access to the last purchase made with one of the major fuel card companies out there.  So when I swipe my Comdata card in the fuel pump, that price is sent to Comdata and from there it is made available to everyone.  You can do this yourself through Comdata here:

It wont tell you that I personally bought fuel somewhere, but it will record that someone using a Comdata card bought fuel and for what price they bought it for.

There are a few strategies to fuel planning that I use commonly.  Since Salena and I are a team operation, we have loads that require less stopping because of time constraints.  Typically I will have a topped off fuel tank on arrival, but that can depend on the weight of the load.  If it is a very light load, I will top off the tank at the cheapest place I can find along the route, but if I think that I might be near my maximum load weight, which is about 40,000 lbs., I will only show up to the shipper with about 1/4 of a tank of fuel just in case the load puts too much weight on my drive axles and causes me to have less fuel carrying ability.

There are many strategies used to save fuel.  From taking the shortest routes through small towns with local police and stoplights everywhere, to running slow on the interstate and minimizing shifting while revving the engine.  You have to run the numbers and see what works for you.  Sometimes saving fuel isn't worth the hassle.  And sometimes it is.

Being A Landstar Leased Owner Operator

Landstar is a company whose main purpose is to connect shippers and receivers to anyone that can help them move their freight.  For almost 13 years, I've been working with Landstar to make my business successful.  There are benefits to being leased to a carrier like Landstar.  They allow you to work on your schedule.  If you want to take time off, you do so at your leisure.  Landstar will manage your weekly fees, such as worker's compensation, bobtail insurance, license plate fees, and permits.  For a 2 person operation like I have, that is usually about 80 bucks a week in fees.  Those fees are pulled out of the check whether you are working or not.  If you are just one person, you will pay around $50/week. 

If you are taking an extended amount of time off, you just pay Landstar those fees and make sure that your logbook is current, and you can come and go as you please.  Landstar does prefer that you make some money every year because it is a business they are running.  Although there are retirees who are leased onto Landstar who only work during the summer and keep their payments to Landstar current.  To put equipment on with Landstar, the tractor does not need to be any particular make, model, color, or year, as long as it is capable of functioning with an EOBR.

To lease onto Landstar you must:
  • Must be at least 23 years of age, possessing a Class A CDL with HazMat (H) or combination (X) endorsement.
  • No more than two at-fault accidents and two motor vehicle violations within the previous 36 months, or no more than one at-fault accident and three motor vehicle violations during the previous 36 months.
  • No involvement in a preventable DOT recordable accident in the past 12 months.
  • Operators must have one year (six months for Expedited) of verifiable over-the-road driving (including snow and ice) within the past three years or three years verifiable experience in the last 10 years, of which six months must be within the previous 48 months, with a Class A (or Class B for Expedited) CDL using the type of equipment similar to what you will be operating at Landstar. No felony convictions within the past 7 years. All other felony and misdemeanor charges are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
  • No positive drug or alcohol test including refusals and pre-employment results.
  • No suspensions of more than 30 days for moving violations in the last 36 months.
  • No more than one serious violation as defined on Table 2 of section 383.51 of the FMCSR handbook within the previous 36 months prior to qualification.
  • No railroad-highway grade crossing offenses as defined on Table 3 of section 383.51 of the FMCSR handbook within the previous 36 months prior to qualification.
  • No citations or convictions for Reckless Driving or Careless Endangerment during the 36 month period prior to the order date of the MVR.
  • No DUI charges during the 60 month period prior to the order date of the MVR in a personal or non-commercial vehicle and never in a commercial vehicle.
  • Proficient enough in English to understand highway traffic signs and signals, respond to official inquiries, make entries on reports and records, and converse with the public.
In order to stay at Landstar, you must:
  • Be safe
  • Do what you say you will do in regards to the loads you are hauling
  • Have a low CSA score
  • Maintain a legal log book (All Landstar new hires must install an EOBR/ELD/AOBR) 
  • Have equipment that is current on inspections which are required every 4 months.

As a truck owner/operator, you can work for yourself on your own without a lease to a carrier, but being on board with a lease carrier like Landstar is a good way to get your feet wet in the owner/operator world and understand how to succeed.  It's also a good way to get to know other people in the business and see what you can offer to help them accomplish their goals. 

Landstar offers it's leased drivers numerous different paths.  You can drive your truck, hire people to drive your truck or trucks, become an agent who sells Landstar's capabilities to customers, or even work in a corporate capacity in one of Landstar's offices, meeting the needs of the global marketplace and potentially one day becoming the CEO. 

I will say that luck can play a part in your trucking career, but having the right people behind you in sticky situations can make all the difference.  Landstar has been there for me over the past 12 and a half years with work, freight, and opportunities.  And for that, I'm appreciative.

I'm Glad I Chose To Be A Truck Driver

Being a modern day truck driver and truck owner has its satisfactions.  The trucks are mechanically easy to operate because of technology in transmissions, engines, power steering, and cab climate options.  You're able to choose where you want to live, work, and socialize.  The scenery is always changing so boredom isn't so much of a problem.  When new things happen around the US and Canada, you can get a load going there and see it firsthand.

You're your own boss and control your work schedule.  You get to be involved in your industry's future by voicing your opinions with the legislators and driver's organizations.  In recent days the opportunity to make a lot of money, even more so than a doctor, lawyer, or engineer has become a reality.  You control who works on your equipment, who you do business with, and where you patronize local businesses to expand your operation.

It's not too difficult to buy multiple trucks and hire drivers for them.  If your desire is to become a fleet owner, it happens every day!  Fleet owners can own as many trucks as they can afford to operate.  Another recent trend is the broker services.  Many freight brokers have popped up to service all types of freight.

Trucking has been a good choice for me.  I enjoy the challenge of navigating the many roads and around the many different drivers.  I appreciate the fact that truckers are the backbone of this country.  Without us truckers, the country would seize up in a matter of a few days. Think about that for a minute.  Do you have a job where if no one showed up to do it, the entire country would collapse?  I've had the pleasure of seeing faces light up when I arrive because the people are excited to receive what they ordered.  In many cases it's the first time they have seen whatever it is in person.

It's not all roses and butterflies, but there's a place for just about everybody in the trucking field.  From driving, dispatching, load planning, trailer loading and unloading, to maintenance, security, facility management, and on and on, regardless of what the future holds, freight will need to be moved from the farms and factories to the stores.

One of the things that makes trucking a unique and rewarding profession is the general opinion that people have about truck drivers.  Truckers are not only the backbone of this country, but the world. Most people have tended to put the truck driving job itself into a class unto itself.  Truckers are only one component of the shipping process albeit an important one. 

Early on in life I weighed out all of the options and becoming a trucker was an option that I will never regret.  Having almost spent 20 years in trucking, it's been a great ride.

Maintaining Equity

Your business will incur debts and it needs to do so in order to run smoothly.  An important consideration is that your debts shouldn't outweigh your income.  The equipment you use shouldn't cost more than its worth.  The equipment should also be able to be sold at a profit or at a reasonable rate so that if you need to sell everything, you can pocket some money and not just break even.

New trucks are appealing because they have a warranty and they meet all of the latest regulations such as the C.A.R.B. regulations in California.  Since they are new, they are less prone to failure due to simply being old.  Older trucks' components wear out.  The plastic and rubber dries out.  The wiring becomes more corroded.  As soon as the truck rolls of the assembly line it starts to age.

Used trucks can be a great deal if they're in good condition or have been maintained.  Even if the used truck hasn't been maintained properly, a skilled mechanic or someone who is mechanically inclined can bring the equipment back up to speed.

The point here is that the value of the equipment should exceed the amount owed on it.  The condition of the equipment is important because the more you keep up with the maintenance and keep records of the repairs, the more value there is when it comes time to sell.  These days where the aerodynamics and fuel efficiency of the truck play a major role in the truck's value, it pays to know when to sell what you have and buy new.

There is also a strategy that is popular where you buy equipment and use it until its at its sell point, then sell it and pocket the money.  Next you buy the equipment with financing to replace your sold equipment and make payments on it while the funds you brought in from your recently sold equipment collects interest in a retirement account.

You can buy and sell trucks, trailers, tools, and anything else your business needs keeping in mind that you should only own so long as there's value.  As long as the value is there, your business will stay in the black.  The best situation to be in is to have a piece of equipment that you can pay off quickly and use for years to come with small payments and little maintenance.  In this scenario, you would buy a new truck at a discount or a used truck for a reasonable price.

You would either make the payments on the new truck or pay the used truck off quickly.  The truck would then be used for several years past its payoff date and the maintenance would be a priority so as not to trump the equipment's former payment amount per month.  It's important to keep on top of the maintenance.  The older the truck, the more attention it needs.

Texting While Driving Is Now A Nationwide Epidemic

This video was shot by the non-driving co driver of the semi-truck.  On this day approximately 30 other vehicle drivers where also witnessed texting behind the wheel of a moving vehicle from passenger cars to commuter bus drivers.  It's everyone!  Anyone with a cell phone can be doing this in any vehicle at any time.  It's more dangerous than drunk driving.  

A Lighter Ed

It’s very easy to pack on the pounds while at the wheel of a semi-truck.  Amazingly though, there's a way to lose the weight almost as fast as you put it on.  It depends on your bodily make-up, but for me it works.  In the past I’d lose weight with exercise.  I’d put on a few pounds and then start my running routine.  In a couple of weeks, the weight would fall off.  
As I grow older, it seems this approach doesn’t work for a couple of reasons:  First, the more you exercise, the hungrier you are and the more you eat.  Second, the added food doesn’t burn off as it did when you were in your teens, 20’s and early 30’s.  

Salena has been barking in my ear for a few years now that exercise isn’t necessary to lose weight.  She has said repeatedly that simply counting calories will do the trick.  She is right about that, but I’ve found that if I count calories, I’m hungry!  Her approach is tried and true.  No matter what you eat, it’s ok, so long as you keep the calories down.  

Recently there was a campaign started to pinpoint the foods we eat that cause obesity.  For me, this was an epiphany.  I can eat all that I want and lose weight without counting calories.  I have combined my past experience, the new science that exists, and Salena’s recommendations to pattern a new lifestyle that so far has involved zero exercise.  Since May 15th,2014 I’ve lost 17 pounds.  My heart rate and pulse is normal, and my energy levels are through the roof.  

The recent campaign called “FedUp” gave me the idea to stop eating bread and sugar.  So I cut them out completely.  Mainly my source of bread and sugar has been fast food.  It seems as if they are putting sugar in everything!  If you go to McDonalds and order a BigMac with cheese and fries with a Diet Coke, you are eating a LOT of bread, sugar, and crap!  Sure it’s delicious, but you WILL pay the price for that meal.

I cut out red meat, pasta, and all fried foods.  If I eat at McDonalds, I have the salad, or if they are out of salad, I get the grilled chicken wrap and if they are out of the wraps, I get the grilled chicken sandwich and throw the bun away.  I might even eat 2 grilled chicken sandwiches without the bun.  I don’t eat fries, but the apple pieces are good as a side.  I’ve found that if I’m not hungry, I don’t crave anything so my goal is to not be hungry.  

If you are carrying a 40 quart cooler around with you in your truck, you can go to the grocery store and load up on green leaf lettuce, radishes, pickles, jalapenos, olives, sliced almonds, sunflower seeds, cherries, bananas, oranges, peaches, apples, carrots, celery, instant oatmeal (only original, no flavors) blueberries, strawberries, chick peas, hardboiled eggs, deli turkey, snap peas, green beans, bell peppers, and whatever else you can fit into your cooler and truck’s cabinet. 

You can chop the vegetables up and store them in a ziplock in the cooler so that you can mix up a fresh salad for lunch.  Eat all that you want of the vegetables!  There is a low calorie organic salad dressing that you can get and all you need is a couple of table spoons of that to lightly coat your salad.  The salads at Wendy’s are great also.  If I am extra hungry and eat a salad at Wendy’s, I get the plain baked potato.  I go ahead and put butter, sour cream, and chives on it.  I’ve become very aware of all the garbage that is for sale on the shelves at truck stops and in convenience stores.  If I need a snack, I eat some carrots and some pistachios, but I don’t have more than about a ¼ cup of pistachios.  I don't count calories except when I am eating pecans, walnuts, pistachios, and peanuts.

For breakfast, I’ll have an egg omelet with ham and cheese or oatmeal with strawberries and blueberries with chopped pecans and for a drink a cup of coffee.

For lunch a huge salad with everything I can pile on with a glass of iced tea or water.  (no sugary drinks or sugar substitutes such as Splenda) 

For dinner, I’ll have either baked fish, scallops, or grilled chicken with a small salad and fresh steamed vegetables with a glass of iced tea or water (no sugary drinks of any kind and this includes Splenda)

For dessert, it’s a chopped fruit salad such as bananas, blueberries, strawberries, peaches, and apples all mixed together and for a drink, a cup of coffee.

Basically I eat whole fresh foods as much as possible.  No artificial ingredients, no fried foods, no bread, no red meat, and no sugar.  

I don’t skimp on the amount of food, though.  I eat until I’m full so I eat a HUGE bowl of salad or for dinner, I eat a couple of chicken breasts and a bowl of vegetables with a large salad.  

I will eat a cheeseburger or some steak tips or even pizza and a piece of cheesecake, but only once a week and only small portions.  As soon as my weight is exactly where I want it, I can tailor what and how much I eat to how much I want to weigh.  

Not exercising is helping to stave off food cravings.  The more I exercise, the hungrier I am.  Keeping food cravings down has been great way to eat less and stay full after a meal.  The main thing to keep in mind is that you don’t want to be hungry and when you are, you should know what not to eat to keep the weight off. 

When I started driving a truck at the ripe old age of 21, I could not put weight on regardless of what I ate, but at the age of 39, I’ve found that it’s getting harder to keep the pounds off.  As of June, 2014, I’ve driven a truck approximately 2.6 million miles and I’ve lived through stressful situations and all of the lifestyle choices that cause weight gain.  Since getting behind the wheel, I’ve put on about 60 pounds of unwanted weight.  

I know how hard it is to lose weight and I know how easy it is to put on the pounds.  I’ve lived it.  The fact is that being heavy will shorten your life and cause problems.  Incorporating diet and exercise doesn’t have to be a miserable campaign.  You can lose weight, strengthen muscles and have fun without being hungry.  You just have to keep trying until you find what your body responds to.  We are all different and what works for me, may not work for you, and vice versa.  

If you love trucking, then you need to care for your body.  When the day comes that you park the truck and go on a vacation, or quit trucking altogether, your body shouldn’t have suffered the consequences of an unhealthy lifestyle such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.

You want to park the truck and enjoy your time seeing the sights and walking anywhere you want to go.  Take care of yourself and have a great life!

The Investment Game

Who wants to invest money in this stock market?  I know what you're thinking,  "Ed?  Are you seriously going to give investing advice?"

    No, not really.  I'm never giving anyone ANY advice when it comes to investing so don't start calling me E.F. Hutton.  You weren't going to anyway?  Right. I thought so.

    The strategy I've been told works by the wealthy folks I've had the pleasure of meeting, is about compounding interest over time.  It's interesting how things come together.  As you start establishing yourself as a person who's able to wear many hats, you find yourself around like minded people.

    The military is similar because as you advance in rank, you find yourself around veterans who have achieved success in their fields.  Well actually, that's just life.  It doesn't matter which path you choose, right?  As you stick to it and become an expert or authority, you will find others who have pursued a similar path to find similar success.

    The point of this post is to highlight that when you are working for yourself, you have to invest in your own retirement.  You need to be thinking long term.  When I started trucking at 21, retirement was a long way off.  If you started at 21 like me, you're not going to be touching that money for 30, 40, or even 50 years.  That's the beauty of compounding interest and mutual funds.
    The earlier you start, the more you'll have when you aren't able to work anymore.  In fact, if you start in your teens, you can put minimal money away every year and by the time you are 30, provided you've picked the right funds and management, you don't ever have to put in another dime.  The money will grow throughout the long time period between when you started and retirement.

    The earlier, the better, when it comes to mutual funds and IRAs.  As an employee, you can contribute to a 401K, and you can also do so as a small business owner.  You can contribute to an IRA, a SEP IRA, an HSA, and a solo 401K, and there are Roth versions of the IRA and the 401K so that you won't pay taxes on the money when you retire.

    The good ole IRS has set up their system to allow you to pick how you set up a retirement plan.  You should tailor your plan to maximize saving money both for yourself and your business.  What most people don't understand is that the IRS wants US citizens to work in this country thereby generating revenue, paying taxes, and both taking and putting back into the system. 

    They don't want to tax you to death, because then people wont support the system.  This system has flaws, and I'm not interested in getting into this here, but for the purpose of this blog, I'll just say that you should know what is taxed, and what is not taxed so that you can navigate the system with some success.

    A good accountant can help you with the taxes, but unless you can afford a financial adviser, you'll be your own financial adviser.  When you're investing in your retirement, it may be that you can't afford not to have a financial adviser, but the important thing is to put something away regardless of how you do it. 

Honesty Is The Only Policy

I haven't gotten to where I am in life with lies and deceit.  When you are keeping a record of your duty status as a truck driver, you have to be as close to accurate as possible, yet mistakes do happen.  If you write a log entry incorrectly, you can correct it still be legal so long as you are honest about your entry.  Where people run into problems is with openly fraudulent entries on the log. 

I've brought up the log and the legal hours of service (HOS) before, but what people need to understand is that the system was created by bureaucrats in response to a supposed desire by society to control the people who operate large machinery in public.

In many cases this is a reasonable concern, however the foundation for why these drivers need to be controlled is shifting and has shifted over time.  In the past truckers might drive when fatigued because of pressure from the customer or their company dispatcher.  The trucker might drive tired because of the opportunity to make more money.  The trucker was completely free to do as he or she pleased until the log book and hours of service was created.

Even then, the penalties for log book violations were weak.  The log book became known as the comic book.  The issue became that drivers were able to safely drive their trucks for 20 hours a day, but now the law was restricting them to 10 hours and then an 8 hour sleeper break.  Since there's 24 hours in a day, they could drive 16 hours in a 24 hour period.

The real problems are that companies have too much control over the industry forcing people to work while tired, and that the drivers who are coming into trucking have little to no understanding of how the trucking industry actually works.  These people go to trucking school and are able to gain entry with relatively no barriers.

Since trucking companies are self insured and can be their own trucking school, they get all the new drivers that come into trucking.  As such they have a controlling function and a deciding force in who is behind the wheel of that 40 ton vehicle riding next to you and your family on your way to work and school.

There should be a better process and more oversight over who is allowed to come into trucking.  Because trucking companies have negotiated ownership over trucking students and new hires in the trucking field, they have done what most companies do: thresh out a better bottom line.  This has been accomplished by removing any and all opposition to the company itself and forcing anyone who works for the company to comply with all company policy or be faced with unemployment.

That would be fine except these drivers are having their pay cut to pad the pockets of the company's CEO and affiliated officers which is removing any incentive for someone who actually wants to behave professionally and safely to want to fill the driver's seat.  There are many people like myself who have dealt with these companies and come out on top, so far, but it hasn't been easy. 

The point here is that while you may come into trucking and honestly be a proficient capable safe operator, your first barrier to success is the trucking company that trained and hired you.  They want you to get from point A to point B for as little money as you're willing to work for and they won't take no for an answer.

You've got to maintain your honest character and proceed to work your way up and out of that company to become an owner if that's your goal.  Regardless of your goal, staying honest is the only way to go.   Without honesty, trust erodes and nobody likes a liar. 

You want to be the person that people like, trust, and depend on to get the job done.  It's harder than it sounds, but it's vital to running a trucking business.

You Will Pay

Nothing is in your house that wasn't somehow or another placed on a truck at one time or another.  When it was placed on this truck, the truck owner was paid.  The truck owner set a rate that he or she felt was reasonable.  This rate was based on a few things such as fuel prices, maintenance costs, driver pay, and the competition's rates.  There is a value here that goes into the price of freight which is not easily calculated:  The pay to the driver to make driver's quality of life worthwhile.

As the lives of drivers are being inundated with electronic recorders, constant surveillance from the Department of Transportation, and local law enforcement, there is another factor which has crept into the lives of truck drivers:  lack of parking.

While the daily hours a driver is allowed to work is being cut short so that he or she will be safer behind the wheel, the places they can park are becoming fewer and fewer.  It really doesn't matter why this is happening so much because the parking lots and unused strips of local roads where trucks aren't allowed are many in number.

When I first came out here almost 20 years ago, trucks could practically park anywhere in the country so long as the truck could fit and be able to navigate in and out of the parking lot.  This made it possible to park somewhere other than a truck stop to take in the local sights or enjoy whatever the local area had to offer.  It's normal for a new business in a remote area or even in the suburbs to allow truck parking.  I see it all the time when a business is starting out.  Trucks bring in business.  And then, just like clockwork, as the business starts to do better, they erect truck parking bans around the property.

Truck drivers who enjoy their lives, charge less money for their service.  The more enjoyable the job, the less money needs to change hands.  Parking lot owners complain about the cost to repair light poles, pick up garbage, and repair damaged asphalt when they start to ban trucks, but is it really cost effective?  Is it possible that the reason there is a driver shortage is partially because life on the road is becoming more and more daunting?

Perhaps the next time you go to the store to fill your cart with anything, you might think about the prices you pay a little differently knowing that if the truckers were happier, the money in your wallet might go a little further than it does.

Call It In

As people who travel the US highways and side streets, we see quite a lot of things out on the road.  We see vehicle crashes, fires, road hazards, aggressive drivers, odd behavior, and outright illegal stuff.  I've been calling 911 for years and reporting what I see.  Some times I've been laughed at, such as the time that a Hostess Doughnut truck was broken down on the Verrazano Narrows bridge and the 911 operator laughed out loud.  Cops and doughnuts have a relationship worth laughing at.

Then there was the time shortly after 9/11 when I was on the interstate near a college and a small car with clear windows pulled in front of me.  Inside were 4 people completely covered in white sheets or white hooded robes.  This vehicle pulled over on the shoulder and everyone inside jumped out of the car and changed seats in the car (Chinese fire drill is what I called that maneuver when I was growing up but I don't know why).  I called the FBI tip line and listened to the agent chuckling to himself.  I can only assume that this car was doing this as some sort of college prank all around the area or at least more than once.  These people in the car put on such a show that I didn't manage to get the license plate number.

The biggest thing that we normally see on the highway is erratic driving.  Most of the time these people are on their cell phones talking or texting.  Recently a driver was driving so crazy that they were pulling in front of people and slamming on their brakes then speeding up and pulling in front of more people and doing that over and over again.  I'm sure that I wasn't the only person who called 911 on that erratic driver, but they were pulled over shortly after my call.

Then there was a car that swerved off the highway far down into a grassy median and sat there.  I called 911, but by the time that police arrived the car was gone.  The company we are leased to has a strict policy on stopping on the shoulder unless you are involved in an accident or have a vehicle problem.  This makes it hard to stop on the shoulder whenever we want to.  There are many times when we want to stop, but can't because of this policy.  There are also very good reasons not to stop for people any more because of thefts, vandalism, and assault on the highway with no one around to help you.  Stopping for people on the shoulder is a very dangerous activity.  Still I consider it if I think that someone's life is in jeopardy.  So instead we call 911.

Usually on the highway, when an incident occurs and 911 is dialed, the local authorities are reached.  The 911 operator asks where the problem is and as soon as they find out the mile marker and highway number, they patch the caller through to the highway patrol or the local police who are handling the area.  This can take a few minutes and normally by the time the person who is in charge of the area is reached, the caller is out of the area.  Sometimes the problem is resolved before the authorities can arrive at the scene and sometimes the authorities simply arrive too late to do anything other than write up a report on whatever happened.

No matter what though, it's better to call in whatever incident happens because you just never know if you will be saving a life or not.

The Owner's Freedom

Running a business is a collaborative effort between numerous parties.  Being the owner of a truck and a trailer is very similar to owning just about any other type of business.  The factors are similar in that you have to provide your customer with a service, manage your employees, maintain your equipment, and negotiate with everyone involved to reach an agreement.  Since you are the owner, you are in control of where the truck goes, what components it will have, who will be driving it, and how much work it will be doing. 

There's no one to tell you what to do.  After you service the needs of your customer, you're done for the day, week, month, or even the year.  As long as your equipment is paid for and your customer is happy, you can come and go as you please.  This can be a problem for people who need a boss to tell them what to do.  Many people don't understand how to manage a business and the change from company driver to company owner is a culture shock. 

It is definitely a challenge to rid yourself of habits formed as a company driving employee.  You must work hard to develop new habits, those of a business owner.  The biggest change is the total control you gain when signing the title to your truck.  That's when it starts to sink in that you are the owner.  You can paint the truck whichever color you like, decide when to change the oil and filters, decide how fast to drive, and how many hours you will work.

And the biggest change is that you decide who to work with (since you are no longer working FOR anyone) and for what rate per mile or per job will be.  Since you are responsible for the truck, you are the one who makes ALL the final decisions.  No one can tell you what to do with your business unless you let them.

Trucking has its benefits in that it allows the freedom of travel and the ability to live anywhere you choose.  You can live in a tax free area with low overhead or a heavily taxed area with high overhead.  Trucking allows you to get paid to travel.  To me this is a great benefit because I have always loved to travel.  I think that unless you really love traveling, you won't like trucking for more than a year.

Being the owner has even more benefits because you are traveling and deciding how much time to take off and where to take that time off.  This is a concept that most, if not all, company truck drivers have no concept of in my experience unless they were prior business owners themselves.  As an owner, I can take loads to my favorite sports team's games anywhere in the country.  I can go to any beach, casino, museum, national landmark, or neighborhood that I desire whenever I choose to so long as my business is in order. 
The only deciding factor in whether I will work or not is if the business needs me to work.  The demands of the business must be met first.  The priority is that the customers must be happy, taxes must be paid, maintenance must be done, the legal aspects of the business must be satisfied such as drug testing and records of hours of service.  Once you develop a system of keeping all of this accomplished, you can eliminate loads of stress and enjoy the freedom of being the boss. 

The risk is greater when you are the owner, but the reward is also greater.  I was recently discussing being an owner with a company employee driver.  This conversation has always gone the same in all the years I've been in this industry.  The company employee has been spoon fed gallons of lies about being an owner.  They have been brainwashed by trucking school and who knows how many ignorant people who had no business running a business in the first place.  I explained to him that you can find good paying freight no matter what the economy is doing and that you will clear most of your monthly debt obligations in a week of work, leaving you free to do as you please with the other 3 and a half weeks.

I was saying this from experience, but another older gentleman had to poke his head in on the conversation to discredit my claims and declare my information as grandiose.  This is the usual conversation that takes place in truckstops around the US and probably around the world.  It's a need I think of people to feel safe and secure in their chosen path by cutting anyone down who threatens to pull them out of said path.  The fight against the "greener grass" is alive and well.  Its more popular to sit around and complain about the world than point out its positive attributes. 

In the end, you are free to decide whether ownership or being an employee is for you.  It doesn't always make sense to be an owner, but when it does, you should consider all the positive stories and rule out the negative.  Consider the source of the information and point yourself in the direction you want it to go in, otherwise you will end up in a place that you didn't want to go.  And it will be you that put yourself there. 

The Preferred Path

I like to update my goals on a regular basis.  When doing so, I look to the past successes and failures.  I've had many of both.  Looking back, the mistakes stand out the most.  If I were to do it all over again these are the things I would do:

1. Find a trucking school that is thorough and fairly priced.  You should pay for it yourself instead of selling yourself into bondage at a trucking company to pay it off.

2. Soak up as much knowledge as you can during your first year as a company driver.  Learn about everything from the mechanics of the truck to the way the trucking company services customers and dispatches the fleet.

3.  Stay safe throughout all of this.  You can recover from a nasty DAC report, but accidents and tickets will stay with you for a few years so keep a clean safe record.

4.  Assuming you are young and around your 20's start investing at least one to two thousand bucks a year into a Roth IRA at Vanguard.  They have very small fees and if you keep doing this, in ten years, you will be on your way to a comfy retirement.  Even if you are in your 40's or later, make sure you put something into retirement.

5.  Become an owner/operator as soon as you possibly can.  Don't wait.  Usually after your first year you can buy a truck and lease onto an owner/operator only fleet.

6.  Don't pay off your equipment early.  Instead, make your monthly payments and put regular payments into retirement.  You can always take the money back out in an emergency, but it would be better if you left it in there and used credit cards instead.  Its then important that these cards get paid off ASAP.  Just don't touch your retirement!  Compounding interest is the 8th wonder of the world.

7.  Set aside some money for repairs.  Probably about 10 cents a mile should do it.

8.  Maintenance Maintenance Maintenance!!!!    Be sure to know everything you can about all the fluids, greasing applications, filters, coolants, tire inflation, engine torque range, etc, etc.  Get to know that truck inside and out!

9.  Buy a trailer.  Trailers have almost no maintenance and bring in up to 10% revenue.  Its a no-brainer and they can be sold after a few years of use to recoup some of the cost of the equipment.

10.  Don't work for cheap.  When you're new, you will be taken advantage of, but you can still weed out bad freight and make good choices.

11.  Limit your risk.  Don't accept loads that require a lot of deadhead with a guarantee of being paid something if the load falls through.  Don't book a load that picks up at the last minute on a Friday or on the weekend without a guarantee of detention, layover pay, or truck ordered not used.

12.  Get everything in writing from the customer, broker, or agent.  Email is the best way to get this information quickly and in a format that's easy to store.

13.  Don't be lazy about load securement.  Go ahead and spend the few extra minutes or half hour making sure that the freight is secure.

14.  Be safe when working around the truck and trailer.  Take extra time keep away from danger in the loading and unloading environment.

15.  Keep in constant communication with the shippers and receivers because lack thereof will only result in anger and confusion.

16.  Keep your eyes on the prize and don't let yourself be dissuaded from your course.  This pertains to safety, reliability, and how you run your business in general.

17.  Be a professional even if no one considers or expects you to be one.  Conduct yourself with a calm responsible composure. Negotiate obstacles with finesse and with all the info you can gather about the situation.  Don't rush to judgement and make a rash decision.  Think through your day and be the voice of rationality instead of the screaming driver who is only annoying those around them.

18.  Have fun whenever you can.  Find a local attraction wherever you go that you might not ever be able to go to on a normal basis and spend a little money enjoying the sights that the country has to offer.

19.  Always conduct yourself in a manner that lends to the accomplishment of your goals.  If your point of view doesn't get you to your goal, you need to adjust your course and correct your position.

20.  Be the person that people go to in order to get the job done right.  Remember that you can be replaced and you need to be the example of what "to do" instead of what "not to do".

Cold Weather And Semi Trucks

Photo by Nick Gray
Road salt, snow, and bitter cold temperatures wreak havoc on trucks.  Not only does a truck driver have to watch out for road hazards and bad road conditions in the wintertime, the truck owner also has to keep the chemicals that are sprayed on the ground, off their equipment and out of the inner workings of the machinery.

Here are some easily overlooked issues that occur:

1. Windshield washer fluid isn't mixed with enough antifreeze.

2. Oil is the wrong weight which can make it too thick when the truck is shut off for long periods of time in  sub-zero temperatures.

3. The components on the truck that are metal can become brittle in extreme cold weather, so running the engine and circulating the fluids before they get too cold can keep the internal temperatures of the metal at an acceptable level.  The block heater won't do that as it will only keep the engine oil a little warmer than the air temperature.

4. The cooling system components can contract and expand greatly in the winter temperatures causing leaks anywhere in the entire cooling system line.

5. Tire pressures drop greatly in cold weather. This is bad for the tires and your fuel mileage.

6. Any imperfections in the windshield can be aggravated by the temperature differences from the cab to the outside. A small chip in the windshield can crack the entire glass when the temperature outside is drastically different from the inside.

7. Ice build-up on the truck and trailer can add weight, and can also be a hazard when it builds up and falls off during transit.

8. Air lines can freeze if the air dryer isn't doing its job, resulting in the brakes locking up.

9. Road salt can corrode the electrical connections on everything from the lights to the ECM.  One preventative measure is to seal the connections with dielectric grease.

Winter weather should not be underestimated.  It can destroy your equipment if you don't prepare for it.

The Fountain Of Youth Is Real

This is human related.  Not just for truckers.  For most people, this is going to read like a Biology Class paper, but it is the biggest news I have heard in my lifetime.  

What it is it? Recently a process was created to revert adult cells in humans into stem cells.  You are born with about 50 million reproducing stem cells.  By the time you reach 35 years of age, they have stopped reproducing and the human body can only do one thing after that.  Die.  From that point on your body starts to decline and the reason why is because your cells have stopped growing and multiplying.  

Now using a chemical process, your body's cells can be stressed out to the point where they revert into a stem cell.  This will reverse aging, cure disease, and stretch a human life potentially indefinitely.  This is no joke.  

Google "adult cells into stem cells" and you will find out everything you didn't want to know about stem cells.  And you will look at the rest of your life in a whole new way.  Think of living another 200 years as a 20 year old.  It's not science fiction folks, it's reality.

The Ever Present Danger Of Poor Health In Trucking

Trucking will take its toll on your body, mind, and spirit.  There's an uncompensated part of the job which will never be adequately addressed.  Even the most dedicated physical fitness buff can be overtaken by the lack of sleep, poor diet, and lack of time needed to exercise.

There are many fitness experts out there who tout all sorts of remedies, but I have only found one that works.  And here it is:

1st   Keep the calories down
2nd  Eat foods that provide the best energy and body replenishment
3rd   Do at least an hour of exercise every day, be it running, aerobics, or lifting weights
4th   Get proper rest
5th   Make it interesting

What I've found is that being a team operation does make it harder to take regular time off to pursue these daily activities than a solo.  You have to fit it in whenever you can.  There have been numerous recommendations written for solos, but for teams, not so much.  There is a difference.

Teams have more miles to drive continuously and do so while sleeping in a moving truck.  Solos never sleep in a moving truck.  There is a difference in the quality of sleep that you get in a stopped vehicle versus a moving one.  Also since the teams are moving continuously,  their time tables get all screwed up compared to a solo.

Many years ago, I was living in Corpus Christi, TX where I spent my days off windsurfing and exercising.  It was easy because I knew my schedule.  I worked a week and a half and then I had about 3 or 4 days off.  I would pack up my van and spend those days on the beach, honing my windsurfing skills.

I was pretty good at it too, and I was arguably in the best shape of my life.  Fast forward 14 years, of which many of them were spent running a business and supporting all those involved and my health is in a completely different category.  Sure I am older, but regardless of how old you are, fitness is achievable.  This year I have a goal to reclaim those lost fitness standards of which I have spent most of my life in pursuit of.  And although Tucson has miles upon miles of beach, there is no ocean to go with it, so windsurfing is out for the time being.

There are some helpful guides out there as I've said, but they don't take into account the specific needs of teams.  If there are some fitness guides pointed directly at teams, I'd sure be interested to see them.

We do have bicycles which we have been using every chance we get, but that is only one form of exercise and its not exactly easy to do in the winter.  We are able to do things like jumping rope, using resistance stretch bands, running, and doing stretches.

This is a sample diet for truckers that I know for a fact works:

Breakfast:  Fruit (oranges, bananas, apples), nuts, and oatmeal (instant non flavored)
Lunch: Tuna fish, small can of vegetables, crackers, water, and fig newtons
Dinner: Soup, crackers, and water
This diet requires about 1 liter of water a day and the more fresh vegetables the better, but canned will do just fine, just try to limit sodium intake.

This diet is cheap, simple, quick to make, and will help you lose weight.  It is low on calories, high on protein, and maybe even delicious if you like tuna, which I could eat every day.  The other thing about this diet is that it will give you enough energy to recuperate after a workout. 

I can say from direct experience as an OTR solo trucker that this diet plus daily exercise will help you lose weight and build muscle tone.

The workout routine that needs to be adopted is simple as well.  The important thing is variation and working out the different parts of your body.  Of course you should consult with a doctor before doing any of this.   Here is a sample workout strategy:

Monday:      Running 2 miles and doing stretches afterwards
Tuesday:      Lifting weights or using resistance stretch bands on your upper body
Wednesday: Run 1 mile and do 15 minutes of aerobics
Thursday:     Lift weights or use resistance bands on your lower body
Friday:         Run 2 miles and stretch
Saturday:     Do aerobics for 45 minutes, or basic calisthenics such as jumping rope
Sunday:        Rest Day

I would take one rest day a week, but you should take more if you need it.  I highly recommend a heart monitor that straps around your chest for aerobics.  You should find your target heart rate and work towards staying in that heart rate range for as long as possible during your aerobic and anaerobic exercises.  There are many target heart rate calculators online, so go ahead and find your favorite.  

And after you find your favorite, use common sense to determine what your resting heart rate is and what your peak active heart rate is.  You shouldn't be grasping your chest during your routine.  You should be able to maintain a steady rate and keep it there for about 5 to 10 minutes, but usually when you are starting out, over weight, and out of muscular shape, you need to take it easy and work your way up slowly to minimize injuries.  

The end result here is to be able to run a few miles, do some jumping jacks for awhile, and all while lowering your resting heart rate.  Building muscle tone is very important because muscle burns fat even while you aren't working out.  So build that muscle, eat that good food, and lose the weight.  

Don't let trucking defeat your health and well being.  You only have one body and if you don't take care of it, no one else will.  I also recommend starting a blog.  It's good for the brain.

Happy New Year

2013 was a good year for us.  We had steady freight and plenty of work.  We bought a new trailer and put our old trailer up for sale.  This blog brought in about 15,000 readers and I hope it had some good information for everyone.

Trucking is not just about delivering freight, but about meeting people and seeing new places.  Historically it has been a great way for people who have no other way of getting around the country to be able to do so.  And to make money doing it.  In 2014 I am going to try to keep up with the changing regulations and give you my take on them.  One big one is the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) and the fact that the FMCSA was pushing to get it onto the books.

And they failed.  Here's to hoping that 2014 doesn't help them push it through at all.  In regard to the CSA, this is from the FMCSA:

The agency says the changes to its Motor Carrier Management Information will allow it to remove violations from a carrier’s or driver’s CSA score and PSP report if the violation was dismissed or resulted in a “not guilty” ruling. FMCSA will retain the violation and indicate it resulted in a different or lesser charge and change the severity weight in the carrier’s CSA Safety Measurement System if adjudication results in conviction of a different charge.

Of course this was never considered when it was originally written, that a driver could actually be innocent of the failed inspection.  One more reason why the industry is continuing on its downward spiral.  At least they corrected this little issue.  

The time is gone when a driver could have multiple accidents and then just quit working at a company and sign on somewhere else to pick up where he or she left off. That was the goal of the CSA, to home in on the problem drivers because the trucking companies wouldn't do it. 

It's still all about the all mighty dollar.