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This blog has been moved to Overdrive’s new website. Or you can go directly to the blog here.

There’s a lot more in the way of blogs, videos, news, services and other owner-operator resources at the new site. I hope you’ll check it out.

— Max Heine

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More than a few trucking books have arrived at Overdrive’s editorial offices over the years, but the most recent I’ve gotten is one of the best. It’s “Eighteen Wheels North to Alaska,” by Cliff Bishop. His long career in the West has included many years of driving truck in Alaska. Now, at 86, he’s published his memoirs “to retain some of the history of trucking in Alaska.”

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“A common sight on the Haul Road,” says Cliff Bishop’s new book on Alaska trucking.

And a colorful history it is. Some of the book’s 29 chapter titles give you an idea of the diverse ground he covers: “Earthquakes,” “Avalanches,” “Accidents” and “Alaska’s Inhabitants: Wolves, Bears and Characters.”

The “characters” include a young man who worked with Bishop and turned out to be a serial killer; a mentally ill, trigger-happy trapper; and a murderous would-be terrorist opposed to construction of the oil pipeline along the Haul Road between Prudhoe Bay and Fairbanks. For those who didn’t get enough of the Haul Road (the Dalton Highway) on the last season of the History Channel’s “Ice Road Truckers,” there’s a chapter on “Building the Haul Road” and another on “Alaska’s North Slope.”

The book also has dozens of black-and-white photos and an appendix of “Alaskan Drivers and Old-Timers,” listing hundreds of people. And yes, the list includes George Spears of “Ice Road Truckers” fame and, as readers of this space know, the driver with whom I rode in 2006 for a Truckers News feature on the Haul Road.

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Bishop's book provides a fascinating look at trucking in a rugged state.

Bishop himself qualifies for the list. He says he’s got his CDL reinstated and is hauling lumber. “It beats the hell out of sitting on my duff and watching TV,” he writes at the book’s conclusion. “I’ve got an old Ford diesel with a 3406 Cat engine with a 53-foot flatbed trailer. I must admit that I am enjoying it a lot. Maybe at age ninety I’ll make a sincere effort to retire. Or not.”

To order the book, visit www.publicationconsultants.com or www.amazon.com. The price is $19.95.

— Max Heine

Industrial production increased by a half-percent in July, the Federal Reserve announced today. While housing and other indicators with relevance to truck freight have shown twitches of life in recent months, this marked the first monthly increase in this measurement since December 2007 (not counting a hurricane-related rebound in October 2008).

The manufacturing component of the index rose 1.0 percent in July. This was mostly due to a tax-revived auto industry, which saw vehicle assemblies jump from 4.1 million units in June to 5.9 million in July (annualized rates).

Here’s the entire report, which covers other segments, as well.

— Max Heine

 

I was fortunate to be invited to Peterbilt’s 70th anniversary celebration at the Denton, Texas, headquarters this week. As part of a presentation to dealers and customers, the company presented this cool little video that shows many of the truck models morphing into each other, reflecting the changes over seven decades.

Also, note the top two photos on the right for a glimpse at a few trucks that stand out in Peterbilt’s history.

And if you haven’t already seen our story, check it for more detail about the company’s history and anniversary celebration.

 — Max Heine

Faithful watchers of “Ice Road Truckers” this season know that there ain’t much between Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay. There’s a few state highway facilities for maintenance of the Haul Road, a few resort facilities (closed in winter) when you cross the Yukon River, and then Coldfoot Camp at roughly the halfway mark. (See the top four photos on the right.)

It’s considered the world’s northernmost truck stop. There’s food, fuel, lodging and other amenities. When I rode the Haul Road with George Spears, now one of the stars on “Ice Road Truckers,” in 2006, we stopped there. We had a fine meal and chewed the fat with other drivers before traversing the remaining 239 miles of wilderness that ended at Prudhoe Bay.

Coldfoot began around 1898, earning its name when thousands of gold-hungry settlers arrived, then quickly got cold feet about the prospect of wintering there, according to the settlement’s website. Many made like birds and headed south.

“At its height, Coldfoot had one gambling hall, two roadhouses, seven saloons and 10 ‘working girls’ (many of the local creeks are named for these friendly women),” says the website. By 1912 the miners relocated to richer ground 13 miles away in Wiseman, and Coldfoot became a ghost town.

Coldfoot revived in the 1970s when a camp was established during construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. “In 1981 Alaskan dog musher Dick Mackey set up an old school bus here and began selling hamburgers to the truck drivers,” says the website. Truckers, using crates that had held pipeline insulation, began hammering together what grew into what is now Coldfoot Camp.

— Max Heine

Anyone who thinks the owner-operator business model can’t rebound from the prolonged downturn, rising costs and other factors should take note of Landstar System. The nation’s largest owner-operator carrier reported its second-quarter earnings Wednesday.

Of course, business was down, as it has been everywhere. Revenue dropped 30 percent from a year ago, and earnings dropped from 56 cents per share to 35 cents per share.

But this isn’t a business model that compels its owners to fly to Washington, D.C., and beg for a few billion or so to tide them over. That 35 cents per share translates to an $18 million profit for the quarter. Furthermore, Landstar’s board declared a 13 percent increase (4.5 cents) in the company’s quarterly dividend.

Shareholders aren’t the only ones profiting. Its 8,000-plus owner-operators are among the highest-earning and safest leased operators in the business. If Landstar wasn’t treating them right, they’d leave in a heartbeat.

And if you want a deeper explanation of the fiscal side, here’s what Landstar President and Chief Executive Officer Henry Gerkens had to say in the company’s prepared statement:

“Irrespective of the current economic environment, Landstar continues to generate outstanding returns. Trailing twelve month return on average shareholders’ equity remained high at 35 percent and trailing 12-month return on invested capital (net income divided by the sum of average equity plus average debt) was 24 percent.

“Landstar’s net revenue margin, defined as revenue less purchased transportation and commissions to agents divided by revenue, was 17.2 percent, up from 15.3 percent in the 2008 second quarter. And, as a direct result of Landstar’s variable cost business model and other cost reduction actions taken in 2009, Landstar was able to generate an operating profit margin of 6.1 percent, despite the revenue decline.”

— Max Heine

Wednesday started with bad news/good news economic reports for trucking. Both involve May numbers.

New orders for durable goods were up by 1.8 percent, says the Commerce Department. That’s better than expected, and a welcome report for any business related to manufacturing.

On the down side, sales of new homes fell, which also wasn’t expected. They were down almost a third from a year ago, reports the Commerce Department.

The market placed more weigh on the durable goods number, and stocks were up at mid-day, particularly those of motor carriers and package shippers.

As Blogger Andrew Leonard says, noting those two reports: “It’s tough out there for an economic forecaster. Everything’s unexpected!”

 — Max Heine

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