Complacency Is Dangerous

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By Henry Albert

When your business becomes complacent, you leave the door wide open to become nothing more than a commodity. The definition of commoditization is the act of making a “process, good or service easy to obtain by making it as uniform, plentiful and affordable as possible. Something becomes commoditized when one offering is nearly indistinguishable from another. As a result of technological innovation, broad-based education and frequent iteration, goods and services become commoditized and, therefore, widely accessible.” This definition came from Investopedia.

We need to be aware that becoming just a commodity places us in the position of competing on price alone. In business, being powerless to negotiate on any angle except price is a bad position to find yourself in. Be a visionary and do everything you can to make sure it doesn’t happen in your business. What differentiates you in the marketplace? We need to think this through in-depth to make sure it’s not just one thing. Sometimes it’s easy to become complacent and rest on our laurels. This is when other competitors have a chance to steal your business as they recognize changes that are happening in the marketplace.

I like to look at other business examples and how they have creatively mastered the art of being proactive in the marketplace. For example, when growing up I remember going to the gas station with my parents and grandparents to fill up the car. We would pull into the full-service station as the attendant would greet us with a warm welcome. Often, we were asked, “would you like a fill-up today?” The attendant would then proceed to check the oil, clean the windshield, look for low tires and take our money. There were also many other services that the gas station would provide. These included: oil changes, brake jobs, and tire replacements. The stations also typically had one restroom and vending machines which dispensed cigarettes, newspapers, snacks, and soda pop. This was the typical gas station of years ago. One could find directions and/or maps if needed. In those days, gas stations would market themselves by advertising different slogans and grades of fuel. I remember this clearly when my grandfather would take me along to fuel up the car. On the fuel pump, there was an endless array of octane levels from which to choose. For some reason, my grandfather would always choose the highest and most expensive grade of fuel.

Whatever happened to the full-service gas station? The first change came during the oil embargo of the 1970s. A person was lucky to even get fuel as the prices skyrocketed and rationing took place. Motorists could only get gas on certain days and amounts were limited to each vehicle. The oil crisis was the beginning of the end for the full-service station. Oil companies figured that customers would be willing to pump their own gasoline in exchange for saving a few pennies. This was the beginning of commoditization. The attendants were no longer needed which diminished any differentiation of service as the customer was serving himself. Commoditization began if full force as people would drive across the street in order to save pennies per gallon from the competitor.

Over time, the stations who survived switched from being service stations to becoming convenience stores. This allowed their businesses to get a leg up on their competition by adding various food items such as coffee, donuts, or a larger variety of snacks and drinks. Eventually, this grew into the services which are offered today in many large gas/convenient stores across the country. Today, you can find just about anything a traveler needs for the road as well as his or her stomach. You’ll even find an aisle carrying over-the-counter medications. Many folks stop at these locations and won’t even purchase gasoline but will go inside for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Oddly enough, these automobile refueling centers are the last place you’ll find a tire or fan belt for your car.

I realize this business is different from transportation. However, there are many forces at work which are trying to commoditize our business as well. Be sure of these things: customers are going to be customers. Meaning they will always demand more, want it faster and easier, and this is just our reality.

Expediters Are Drawn To a Challenge

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By Bob & Linda Caffee

When there are natural disasters, trucks line up to run loads into the affected area. Some even run loads on their own dime to help people or animals survive.

While the money is often good, the challenge is even greater. Drivers work to navigate in an area where the water is trying to crest a bridge or go over the top of the road, all to deliver a load safe and sound. The way into the affected area is not always the way out as the water might have now gone across the bridge or roadway. It is just as tricky to get out as it was to get in.

The news on TV is not a good source for knowledge of the affected area as over and over again we see one small scene of utter devastation. TV news that does not show the worst of the worst is boring to watch and so the non-devastated areas are not shown: the roads that are fine, the neighborhoods that are fine, and the areas with no wind or water damage.

Do your own research: look at the path of the storm, talk to the shipper or receiver, look at state maps that show open and closed roads, then make your own educated decision. The best way to stay safe is to look out your windshield – if something does not look right to you, look it over closely and watch the oncoming traffic to decide. Backing out of a bad situation or turning around is not the coward’s way out. It is the sign of a professional making a decision based on their own comfort level.

Expediting is often a challenge when we see where we have to pick up or deliver, or the building we have to enter to get our freight. The challenge of not knowing what we are picking up, where or when we are going, and how far the load will go is part of the excitement of being an expediter.

When we are with other expediters, we compare some of the funny or frightening places we have picked up or delivered and it keeps all of us laughing. Expediters usually use a different language when talking amongst themselves as our talk usually is around places, not the heavy weight of a load. Having to use a lift gate to pick up or deliver a load takes us to a lot of places where we look at each other and say, “I don’t think a truck belongs back here.”

Another saying is often heard said as well: “I am sure glad we are a team.” Being a team makes some places easier to get into or to get the freight loaded, and using two sets of eyes to make sure we do not clip anything with the truck or to assist with loading.

After being an expediter for the past fourteen years, the excitement is still inside of us to see what will happen with the next load.

One place we do not like unexpected excitement or a challenge is with our Freightliner Cascadia which is the core of our business. Our truck has to start each time the key is turned over and deliver us safely to our destination with the freight riding safe and sound. During all four seasons, we depend on our truck to keep us safe and make us money.

We have not been disappointed.

Thank You, Driver

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By Bob & Linda Caffee

As I pulled off the interstate, a truck followed me going to the same truck stop. When I stopped at the fuel island, this truck pulled beside me and rolled down the passenger window. “Ma’am, your brake light on the passenger side is bright and it is not going off.” I thanked him and off he went. His short message saved us a big headache. While we were in the shade of the fuel canopy, Bob was able to look at the light and figure out what was wrong and fix it.

I remember while in our personal vehicle, we passed an older pickup pulling an even older trailer with a blown tire. This had happened a while back and he just lost the tire and was now rolling on the hub.  I pulled up beside him and kept telling him to pull over and pointing. He gave a look of “What?” I again motioned and stayed beside him till he pulled over. I had to go back to town later and saw him and another vehicle working on changing the tire. I hoped that I had got his attention before he ruined the hub.

When talking to friends on the phone I have had them tell me to hang on a minute as they get on the CB and try to get a driver’s attention that something is wrong with the trailer or the load. If the CB doesn’t work, I have them do what I did: pull up beside them and try to get their attention. From what I hear from the drivers I have tried to call on the CB, most of them are like me and leave the CB off unless needed. Each driver reacts differently to another truck pulling up beside them and pointing; some immediately get it and pull over to see what the problem is and others do their best to try and ditch the driver trying to help.

It seems to be force of habit when going down the road to pre-trip the truck and trailer we are passing. I do not even pretend to be as good as this as Bob is but I still notice when something is blaringly wrong with the vehicle beside us.

Take the time to let another driver know if you see something that is going wrong with their vehicle as it just might save a life or a lot of hardship on the other driver’s part. Pay it forward.

Pulling Wiggle Wagons

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By Joey Slaughter

If you ever get tired of OTR and seek work for an LTL carrier that will get you home more often, chances are you’ll be required to operate double trailers. Double trailers (or pups as some call them) are usually 28′ long which totals to 56′ of space; a little longer than a 53′ van and still only needs 5 axles. They are usually pulled by a truck with one drive axle (single screw) and they have a converter gear (dolly) which is the axle and 5th wheel assembly that hooks to the back trailer and of course, both pups have a single axle.

When it’s time to latch ’em and snatch ’em, this is what you do:

  1. Identify the two trailers you’ll be taking and the weights of each.
  2. The heavier trailer goes up front so the dolly needs to be spotted in front of a lighter trailer.
  3. Hook up the dolly to your bobtail tractor; you should have a pintle hook on the back.
  4. Back up to second trailer and spot the dolly in front of it and align with the kingpin.
  5. Make sure trailer height is correct for coupling; adjust landing gear as necessary.
  6. Hook to the first trailer and back up to the dolly, aligning both trailers and dolly.
  7. Lift dolly and hook up to the front trailer and secure with chains and pintle hook.
  8. Back first trailer with dolly under the second trailer to securely couple; give a forward tug to confirm a connection.
  9. Hook up air lines and electrical cord.
  10. After a full pre-trip inspection, you’re ready to roll!

Here are some things to be aware of when operating doubles.

  • Don’t get in a situation where you need to back up. I have backed them up, but it’s nearly impossible.
  • If taking a break at a truck stop, be very careful you don’t go down a dead end row. You must be able to pull through a space or just pull through fuel island and get in and get out!
  • The back trailer is very sensitive to steering wheel movements. This is called the whip effect. When you jerk the steering wheel, the physics of that motion is multiplied to the rear trailer and that trailer will respond with more movement than you’d think, hence the term wiggle wagons.
  • A set of doubles tracks better than a 53′ trailer, meaning you don’t have to take your turns as wide. The overall combination is around 8′ longer with the 56′ of the trailer and the space between the first and second trailer, but it will still track better than a 53′ van.

There is more to know when operating this type of unit, but these are the main points. I recommend that you get your doubles endorsement in order to make yourself more versatile and attractive to prospective employers.

How Becoming a Trucker Buddy Could Change Your Life

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By Bob & Linda Caffee

Several years ago, fellow Freightliner Team Run Smart Pro Henry Albert joined Trucker Buddy and I thought he had lost his mind. With his busy schedule why in the world would he take on a class of young students to be a pen pal with? Time went by with him telling us stories of his class, his involvement, and how good the letters from the students made him feel. In time I started suggesting things he might send his class that I thought they would find interesting. He finally said, “Why don’t you get a class?” Well, we finally applied.

There is more to becoming a Trucker Buddy then filling out an application as we first have to go through a background check and then find a teacher that will work with our operation.  We had a couple of teachers before we were matched with Stephanie.  The director of Trucker Buddy asked if we would like to work with a teacher overseas that would be mostly done through email.  That sounded perfect as we do not get home often enough to send a lot of handwritten letters.

We found out that our teacher lives in France and teaches English to three grades so we would have approximately 125-150 students each year. The first thing we learned about Stephanie is that she is very excited about teaching English and working with us. We hit it off immediately and the fun began.  Her feedback was instrumental in keeping me motivated to come up with new ideas to send to her classes. We have sent hundreds of postcards, pictures, maps, and videos to the students talking about our lives. In return, the students have taken us on many tours of their school, given us reports, cooked their favorite meals, and thanked us all in English.

In 2016 we finally took a trip to France to meet our teacher, her family, and our students.  What an amazing trip and Stephanie made sure it was not something we would ever forget. She invited us to stay at their house and go to school with her each day. On the weekend before school started we went with the family and toured the area where they live. Bright and early Monday morning off we went to school to meet one grade of her students and to go on a field trip with them. Each day we went with another grade on a field trip with the students explaining what we were seeing and asking us questions. Not all of their English was great and we spent a lot of time figuring out what each other was trying to say. That trip was fantastic and as we were leaving Stephanie said: “We are going to plan a trip to the States in two years to tour and to see where you live.”

Well, the two years are here and our teacher and her family are in the United States and heading towards our house. The family has been touring the western states and will fly from Denver to Saint Louis. While at our house no moss will grow under their feet! We will start their visit by going downtown and touring the Arch as well at the Lewis and Clark museum at the bottom of the Arch.  Next, we will tour Budweiser and I know one of the things they will like best is getting to see one of the Clydesdales that is always in residence at the brewery. After that, it will be off to the Saint Louis City Museum, and I know it will be a highlight because there are not many like it. Kids learn by doing and it is I believe four floors of fun as there are not many steps as you use tunnels, ropes, and all kinds of crazy stuff to go from floor to floor and room to room.

After a fun day of touring downtown, we will be on our way back home where I will have had a pot of roast beef, potatoes, and carrots cooking for dinner. Our goal is to have traditional food and to show what we would typically eat. This has been difficult to plan as Mexican food is usually my staple.  We will have omelets, pancakes, as well as a choice of biscuits and gravy for breakfasts. Fred, Stephanie’s husband likes BBQ and we have a local BBQ restaurant that is one of the best in the country so we will go to Big Stickies, in Troy, MO for lunch one day.

On Saturday we are planning in the morning going to Big Joel’s Safari and Petting Zoo that is run by a family and it a great place for kids and older kids.  We have been there several times and enjoy seeing how well kept the animals are. After our morning adventures, we will be back home to plan the evening’s cookout. We have invited several friends to the event and everyone is excited to meet the family from France. We are having a traditional cookout, hamburgers, potato salad, baked beans, chips, apple pie and I hope homemade ice cream. Hopefully, we get some rain and it is cool enough to make S’Mores as I think everyone will enjoy this.

On their last full day at the house, we are going to Hannibal, MO to see where Mark Twain lived and to tour around the town and to see the cave where Becky and Tom were trapped. Stephanie is a fan of all American literature and the stories of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are a favorite of hers. I also introduced her to The Unsinkable Molly Brown and have sent her pictures of Molly’s house in Denver and now she will be able to see where she was born. We will spend most of the day touring Hannibal and then it will be back home for a fiesta. Yep, they are not leaving without and Americanized Mexican dinner at our house.

Who would have guessed from joining Trucker Buddy International many years ago would lead to an overseas trip for us and then us hosting a family from France? During the year I enjoy my interaction with Stephanie and the students and watching as their English improves. This program has greatly enriched our lives. Click here to learn more about Trucker Buddy.

How to Reduce Truck Stop Fender Benders

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By Joey Slaughter

It seems as if almost every night, I see a picture of two trucks swapping paint in a truck stop on social media. As every driver knows, parking is a serious problem. Thanks to the lack of flexibility ELDs have caused, a lot of truckers are piling in truck stops and parking in ways they shouldn’t because they may not have enough time to make it to a safer place to park.

The easiest option to reduce truck stop mishaps is to park at truck stops that have large lots and angled parking. NASTC (National Association of Small Trucking Companies) cited an insurance study when picking their fuel stops for their fuel program. They were able to identify the truck stop chains that did not have angled parking and therefore had more on-site accidents.

Below is a picture of a large truck stop with angled parking. It was probably late morning when this picture was taken due to the lack of trucks. As you can see, it has a large lot with plenty of room.  I prefer the spots on the perimeter where no one can park behind me. I also prefer corner spots on the perimeter where no one can park on one side of me. This further reduces the likelihood of an accident. However, end spots on the middle row are extremely dangerous as the traffic flow will keep trucks going by you all night long and thus increase the chance of a mishap.


The picture below is of a truck stop that NASTC prefers their members to avoid. I have learned to never sleep in a truck stop like this if possible. As you can see, due to the straight line parking, almost every truck has to get into a “jack-knife” position to get parked. This increases blind spots and the chances of an accident.


Why Not You?

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By Henry Albert

This past week two opportunities were presented to me that I could solve.

When traveling one over from the slow lane I encountered a spare tire and wheel in the middle of my lane. With traffic on both sides, I was forced to come to a stop. I put on my emergency flashers and when traffic was clear I stepped out and picked up the errant tire assembly. While some motorists honked, others, when they saw what I had done, gave me a thumb up. This situation could have become deadly if a small car had hit this obstacle.

A few days later I came across a rental vehicle that was trying to park. Seeing them struggle and having difficulty. I decided to walk over and lend them some assistance. We then went over some good trailering tips, ways to adjust their mirrors for maximum visibility and other thoughts to make their trip safe. They told me where they were moving to and I gave them suggestions on where to fuel up so they would not end up in a tight convenience store parking lot. They thanked me for my tips and advice and we parted ways.

All it took was a little time to move the tire and wheel out of the road as I was already at a stop as was traffic behind me. Once I moved the tire all lanes were able to move as the road was clear of the situation.

In the end, I looked at both of these items as nice trucking outreach events. Where the public got the chance to see a trucker in a better light.

Culture Shock

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By Linda Caffee

I admit I got into the truck with rose colored glasses on and no clue how to actually live in a truck for months at a time. The first truck was a Freightliner with an upper bunk that became my sanctuary.  I spent a lot of time planning what all I could not live without and Bob, as usual, made it happen.  At this time, I worked on several different types of crafts and I also needed my books to read and none of it could be left at home. Access to the internet was limited to when we parked and using dial-up or at the time Park-N-View. I was very fearful of getting bored.

My laptop, printer, and scanner were also in the truck and Bob made a shelf that hung down from the upper bunk that held everything securely. I was also reminded often that I had to be careful of what all I brought or we could be overweight which at the time meant nothing to me. We also had our Cocker Spaniel Molly who traveled with us often. The Freightliner had perfect places for her food as well as her treats. Even in her later years she always looked at the same cabinet when getting into a truck for her treat.

The upper bunk consisted of two smaller chests of drawers that were firmly attached to the upper bunk facing each other with clever latches on the sides to keep the drawers from opening. These drawers were stuffed full of my projects and I could set for hours when the truck was not moving in the upper bunk working away.

Now for the shocks to my systems and the rose-colored glasses came off. First, we were with a forced dispatch company and I always say we even though I did not drive as I was part of the team that did paperwork and took care of the Qualcomm. Bob drove and I took care of the rest including spotting for him when needed which was also another riot as I was not really good at this. Bob would watch my legs as he usually could not see much else and when I started jumping up and down he stopped. After I learned to back the trailer I became much better at spotting for him.

My first trip from our very small town in southwest Kansas all of the way to Boston and I was petrified of all of the people and traffic. When we stopped at my first big truck stop Bob stopped to chat with another driver and I headed in by myself and I remember how intimidated I was to walk past so many trucks all running and at that time I thought breathing fire and would run me down at any moment.  Lucky for me and the others around I learned truck stop etiquette quickly. Learning how to walk safely in a truck stop is a must. I was pretty upset and shook by the time I got back to the safety of the Freightliner.

Once we got to Boston our directions were horrible and thankfully a car with a very nice gentleman stopped and led us to our crazy destination. Never will forget this place and after unloading we went to another crazy place to load thankfully going back to the center of the country. This taste of these first two places has stuck with me as the only person that was kind was the gentleman that helped us find our first location. I learned that many of the people in the North East speak differently than those of us from Kansas.

Another struggle I had was with routing Bob as it was my job to read the directions and the map. I will remind you that we were from a rural area of Kansas and our biggest town we drove in was Amarillo, Texas so my experience was not good nor were many of my directions. Whoever heard of a business loop or a belt loop? Well, I learned the hard way when sending Bob down business loops as he dodged trees and I admired the quaint little shops. I learned that when we see quaint little shops pulling a 53’ trailer is not usually calming on the driver. The first time we were routed on a belt loop I had to call into dispatch to clarify what in the world that meant.

Probably the worst was the forced dispatch as well as forced routing as we went places we shouldn’t have. At that time, we knew the truck might disintegrate if we did not follow the rules exactly and I remember a nightmare of when we were routed on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Thankfully some fireman caught us before we could get on the highway and helped us get turned around, and another time being routed over a mountain with signs saying NO trucks. We did not take that road.

There are so many stories that are funny now that happened to us in those first years that we are very thankfully someone was watching out for us. We both survived our start but it was not long before we knew we needed our own truck and we needed rid of forced dispatch. The Freightliner though that was our safe haven and home away from home made us want one that belonged to us.

The rest is history as we discovered Expediting, bought our first truck in January 2004, and became team drivers. We paid our dues in trucking and then started fine-tuning what we were doing to fit how we wanted to live our lives.

Back to Paper

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By Jeff Clark

It happened. My AOBRD went down. I went into work like normal. Turned the machine on. Logged on duty. Arrived myself and then recorded my pre-trip. From there I bob tailed down to my customer to pick up my load. All was well, I changed my status to on duty and went about the business of getting my papers and finding my trailer. I found my trailer and hooked up to it. Then I did my pre-trip on my trailer and all was well with the trailer.

My tablet was frozen. I tied restarting it. That usually works. Then I tried turning it off and back on. It still wouldn’t work. I reached into my cabinet and got our the old paper logs. It was Sunday and we would not have my regular dispatcher there. Safety would not be there. Informational Technology would not be there either. We do have extended services and they could email me my last 8 days, so at least I was covered. A lot of drivers do not have “extended” services and you have to make sure that if something does happen to your recording device that you have access to your last 8 days.

It has been over 5 years since I spent a whole day on paper logs. I had to remember how to fill out my log. Luckily, I had been filling one out for almost 25 years before that. It came back to me. It really wasn’t that bad, or that good either. Really it was no big deal. I drove the 2 hours from my customer and took a short break in Milton, WI. I logged the 2 hours on the driveline and then 15 minutes off duty. Even if I could not access it, I thought that the machine would be recording it. So, I logged it exactly like I was driving it and even made sure to log myself back up to the driveline.

The timing of my 30 minute break did not change much either. On a perfect day, I can make it to Farmersville, IL. My goal is to make it at least to La Salle, IL. The Dixie Travel Plaza in Mc Lean is one of my faves, and I often stop there. This day, I had my lunch packed. So, I just hit the Funk’s Grove Rest Area south of Bloomington. As luck would have it there was an Illinois State Trooper watching all of the trucks in the rest area. I didn’t take any chances, and took a 32 minute break.

The IT department was able to remotely fix my electronic logs the next day. I scanned in my paper log and my electronic log was automatically updated. The episode did serve to remind me that we need to keep a paper log on board. You will also need to access your last 8 days. Be prepared.

The Caffees’ 2015 Freightliner Cascadia

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By Bob & Linda Caffee

411,046 Miles on our 2015 Freightliner Cascadia
Lifetime Fuel Mileage 12.23

The “Caff-cadia” had some crazy modifications performed before we brought her home. She started out getting good fuel mileage and that has not changed. Between our fuel mileage and the fuel sur charge (FSC) we are very pleased with our Freightliner.

2015 Cascadia Straight Truck

  • DD13 engine DT12 transmission
  • 31,500 pounds empty
  • Axle ratio 2.5
  • Disc brakes
  • Liftable pusher axle
  • Wheelbase: 296”
  • 1 – 120-gallon fuel tank
  • 1 – 80-gallon fuel tank used exclusively for generator
  • Average load: 2360 lbs
  • Speed driven: 58–60 MPH
  • Southern half of the United States

At the first of the year, Bob took off the full skirting as we are preparing the truck for a driver when we purchase our new truck. We felt that the skirts would place to much pressure on a driver as they were very low and each dock and dip in the road had to be looked at carefully as to not drag the skirts. Every once in a while, our skirts had to be lifted to cross over a particularly difficult bump in a driveway. Was the extra work worth it? Yes, as the owner of the truck.

We are in the process of spec’ing our next Cascadia and are hoping for even better fuel mileage. The new Cascadia will be a little different than our current truck with the main difference we are going with a twin screw and a heavier front end. More on spec’s when we get the truck ordered.