“This was our Katrina”

Some official or other uttered those words in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in the recent past, in reference to the flooding they endured. Having passed through the middle of town today I can tell you he or she is full of it. Yes, some low-lying houses and such were flooded, some railroad tracks under water and the like but the town itself is up and running, people going about their business. In other words, not so much.

I awoke at 0300 and couldn’t get back to sleep so I moved out. I was back in Omaha, Nebraska after having dropped my trailer, filled up the reefer fuel, did some shopping and fueled up my truck by about 1530. Tomorrow’s preplan is a simple run from Council Bluffs, Iowa down to Carthage, Missouri then to take a few days off at the house.

MPG on the trip back was 7.7 according to the trip computer. Fuel at the yard was $4.37 which was about thirty cents cheaper than that available in Wisconsin. Naturally, I filled up the tanks to the very top.

I got some questions about the Fuel Surcharge (FSC), how it works and the like. Basically, it is designed to give trucks averaging 6.0 MPG fuel at $1.20 cents no matter what the actual fuel cost is. Each week, the US Department of Energy determines the average diesel fuel price across the nation, subtracts that $1.20 from it then divides the remainder by six to get the FSC.

For instance, suppose the average cost of diesel is $4.20 across the USA last week. Subtracting $1.20 from that leaves $3.00, and dividing that by six gives a FSC of 50 cents. If a shipper is charged that FSC on each mile from their location to the destination, and assuming the entire amount is given to the truck, then the fuel for that truck will cost $1.20 per gallon, assuming the truck gets 6.0 MPG. If you get more, as I have so far, then my actual cost of fuel is lower. If you get less than 6.0 MPG then the cost of your fuel is higher.


Trip #7: Green Bay, Wisconsin to Council Bluffs, Iowa

This trip has 62 deadhead miles ($53.94) and 543 loaded miles ($488.70) with a 58 cent FSC ($350.90) for a total of $893.54 income.

My actual driving miles will be around 650. At 7.5 MPG this is 87 gallons of fuel that I paid $392.37 for, leaving the cost of fuel, after surcharge, for this trip at $41.47. This is a 6.38 cent per mile cost of fuel.

That’ll do just fine.

MPG update

I managed to keep my MPG at 7.5 the rest of the way to the consignee, and even raised it to 7.6 with the deadhead out to Green Bay. This saves me about 5 gallons of fuel over the “Mick Miser” profile I list below, for which I would have paid $22.55 when I filled up last. This would increase my base profit for this load to $637.76, versus $367.16 for a “Billy Big Rig” type.

Better yet, my dispatcher tells me that fuel at the yard costs $4.31 a gallon, twenty cents cheaper than what I paid yesterday in West Memphis, Arkansas. Because I’m getting such good MPG I should be able to make it from here all the way back to Omaha tomorrow on what is left in my tanks now. Since the FSC this week is 58 cents a mile, if I’m getting 7.5 MPG that equals $4.35 a gallon so if I fuel at the yard I’m making 4 cents profit filling my truck!

(No, not exactly… for one thing, that doesn’t take into account the out-of-route miles I have to run on my loads. Still it is a nice thing to contemplate — better than free fuel!)

Oh, and the cheese load is fairly light as well: just 20,000 lbs.

Bad directions and closed roads

The alarm went off at 0430 this morning and I got myself and my truck ready to roll. I was trying to make a noon delivery time for the load and it would be close, given that I was constrained by the Illinois commercial truck speed limit and a number of small highways in Wisconsin that I would have to take to get to my consignee.

Around 0800 I called up the broker for this load and asked for directions. Surprisingly, they had them on hand and rattled them off, and I was zooming in on my GPS as the lady gave them out. This let me double check the “turn left here” and “cross railroad tracks there” type of directions and I marked a place on my electronic map that should have been within a block of my target.

As I was closing in on Madison, Wisconsin a series of electronic signs on the shoulder said that I-39 northbound was closed north of there. The directions I received assumed I would be taking I-39, but I just switched it a bit east instead and let it recalculate a new route for me. It told me to take state highway 151 up through Oshkosh, Wisconsin then over towards Waupaca using US-45.

When I got to Oshkosh I learn that US-45 is closed as well so I have to take a marked detour further north to US-10. At this point I knew I wouldn’t make my appointment and I put in a delayed message through the satellite unit telling them I hoped to be there by 1300.

I finally make it to Waupaca and start taking the street-level directions provided by the broker. They had me make some turns hither and yon, then find an Industrial drive to turn down, then make a right on such-and-such a street and look for the fourth building on the left. Turns out that is either a National Guard building or some other equally unlikely spot to unload and I stop and ask anyone if they know where (name of my consignee is). One guy looks at my quizzically and points behind me at this large factory, replete with smokestacks belching smoke and says “There”. The entire Industrial drive / right turn on whatever street / fourth building down is bunk, just look for the big-ass factory belching smoke that you can see from a mile away. I wonder why I never get easy directions like that when I have to ask.

I speak to the completely disinterested guard lady at the guard shack and she waves me on towards Warehouse #2. The docks are full so I pull up next to it and walk in with the paperwork. Inside, an efficient looking forklift operator glances over the paperwork and tells me to take the door another driver is in the process of vacating.

The paperwork itself is a model of brevity as well. There is no shipper or destination listed, just a few things like the date, three lines describing the various lumber products in the load, and my signature. I guess that is the way it is done in Mississippi.

I’m done in about 45 minutes and already my next load is waiting an hour away in Green Bay, Wisconsin. I’m to take a load of (what else) cheese to our friends at ConAgra in Council Bluffs, Iowa to deliver tomorrow afternoon. Finding the cheese place isn’t difficult, though they do throw a mean curveball with very nice, inviting docks at the front of their building that, as it turns out, we don’t use. Go one block further, turn left, go to the rear of the building, speak with the shipping people. Yada yada yada.

Turns out the order number our folks in the rear with the gear gave me was wrong, but the shipping lady figured out the right one going to Council Bluffs and gave me a door to back into. These are the fun ones we occasionally get to use with reefers, where you dock with your doors closed and they open them up inside. I wish more places did it that way.

Speed demons, the Green Bay folks are not. It took them 2.5 hours to start loading me and I’m not quite done yet. I spied a small truckstop on the same exit I took to get here so I think I’ll head over there to call it a night.

Trip Figures

For those of you interested in the down-and-dirty nitty gritty of a lease-purchase in the trucking industry I will be releasing my weekly settlements here online shortly. Until then, here is a breakdown of some of the figures for this load I’m on now:

Trip #6 includes 777 loaded miles, 20 deadhead miles, and a Fuel Surcharge (FSC) of 58 cents per mile. Assuming there is no detention at the consignee, this is the total income for this load, and it breaks out as follows:


deadhead $ 17.40
loaded $699.30
FSC $462.26
total $1178.96

No matter how I run my truck on this load, that is what I’m going to be paid, and I know this up front.

Now, the only real variable left in the equation is the cost of fuel. Since I fueled today I’ll use that price as the cost of fuel for the trip (anal retentive types could argue it would be a blend of the last fill up I made and this one, but I’m not one of those).

I paid $4.51 per gallon at the pump this morning. Since the amount I get paid in FSC doesn’t change ($462.26) the only real control I have over the equation is how many gallons it takes me to get from where I started, to the shipper then to the consignee.

It turns out this trip, as I’m running it, is right at 900 miles long. I’ve mentioned before the disparity between Rand-McNally “short miles” and what I call “real miles”, but suffice it to say we rarely get paid for all miles run on a load. In this case, I have to run about 100 extra miles, on my own dime, for this load.

Now, I’m going to show you three ways of accomplishing this trip. The first way, we have our driver “Mick Miser” who gets 7.2 MPG average the entire way. The second way, we will have a driver “Alex Average” who gets 6.0 MPG for the trip, and finally our big spender, the ever-popular “Billy Big Rig” who gets 5.0 MPG in his super fast truck.

Here is “Mick Miser”:

EXPENSE: (7.2 MPG – 125 gallons)

fuel $563.75
Profit: $615.21

And now “Alex Average”:

EXPENSE: (6.0 MPG – 150 gallons)

fuel $676.50
Profit: $502.46

Finally, “Billy Big Rig”:

EXPENSE: (5.0 MPG – 180 gallons)

fuel $811.80
Profit: $367.16

Remember, once you are assigned the trip your income is fixed; it is your expenses that will make or break you. In this example, there is a difference of $112.75 between “Mick” and “Alex” and a whopping $248.05 between “Mick” and “Billy”.

Another way to look at this is the adjusted fuel expense per mile. That is, take the cost of filling up, subtract the FSC then divide the rest by the miles in the trip. This boils down the following way:

Adjusted fuel expense per mile @ 7.2 MPG: 11.2 cents
Adjusted fuel expense per mile @ 6.0 MPG: 23.7 cents
Adjusted fuel expense per mile @ 5.0 MPG: 38.8 cents

It doesn’t take much of a genius to figure out that I’d rather pay 11.2 cents per mile I run rather than 38.8. The difference between “Mick” and “Billy” is more than tossing a quarter out the window every mile for the entire trip. Or, more correctly, watching it pour out the exhaust stacks in the form of more diesel going up in smoke.

350 to go

You know it is going to be an interesting trip when:

(1) The building your shipper occupies is out in the middle of nowhere, Mississippi and isn’t marked.

(2) The guy who loads your trailer hands you the paperwork and can’t for the life of him figure out how much weight he just put on your truck.

(3) The closest scale is almost exactly 20 miles away.

The trucking gods were smiling, however, and the load turned out to be only about 38,000 pounds. As a little extra, the weather today was pleasant with clear skies and fairly light winds and I’m getting excellent fuel mileage. I was at 7.2 MPG when I fueled in West Memphis, Arkansas and from there to the north central part of Illinois where I wound up tonight it is up to 7.5 MPG.

The consignee for this load is apparently so obscure their address or even street doesn’t show up on my GPS or Google Maps. As this is a brokered load, I get to call up the third party broker tomorrow and ask, pretty-please, if they will tell me where exactly it needs to get delivered to.

I was able to stop by one of my regular super Wal-Mart haunts in Mt. Vernon, Illinois this afternoon to fill up the pantry and fridge. I spent about $50 for roughly a week’s worth of supplies; usually it would be 30-40 bucks but I had some chocolate cravings and just had to get some of the new mint M&Ms. I tried some a little while ago and they are weird… not much like regular M&Ms at all.

There are a couple design decisions that Volvo made on my truck that I wish they would revisit. One would be making the end of the oil dipstick out of something other than jet black plastic. It makes checking the level a difficult squint rather than looking at the typical metal kind. Also, the front curtains in my truck have been used precisely one time so far and already three or four of the hanger things have broken off (as in, they were broken when I got the truck). Something to add to the list next time I’m through Omaha with some time off.

I was planning on driving another hundred miles or so today but when I pulled into a rest area to spring a leak a case of the lazies took over and I was hopelessly outmatched. I will try to do better tomorrow, I swear.