American Trucker reconnected with several truck drivers operating through the COVID-19 pandemic. They are reporting that deteriorating rates and closed shippers are forcing them to consider parking their trucks.
Larry Kahaner APR 27, 2020
What a difference several weeks makes. At the end of March, American Trucker spoke with several drivers about their lives on the road during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of them reported challenges but no insurmountable problems.
Now, however, although many truck stops have upped their game with cleaner facilities and opportunities to buy food, these drivers have reported deteriorating rates and closed shippers, forcing them to consider parking their trucks.
Here’s what they had to say:
Kevin Steichen: Where I live, in Sioux Falls, S.D., the big Smithfield [pork processing] plant has shut down. With these plants being shut down, it is going to be a trickle-down effect that is going to affect everyone—from the supplier, the farmer, the driver, to the consumer. It’s going to affect everybody in between. It’s sad, it really is.
One day [recently], the Smithfield plant was rated as the number two hot spot in the nation per capita. That’s kind of scary … Usually, we haul a lot of fat lambs and sheep. We haven’t hauled a load of sheep in probably almost a month—until [recently]. One of our guys actually took a load to Denver. Why? Lambs are a more restaurant-driven commodity than other meats. I know plants out East that are shut down. Slaughter plants for lambs and whatnot, they’re shut down. The livestock market has tanked in every category. The farmers are taking a beating on what they’re getting paid for their animals at the sale barns, at the slaughter plants, everything. I don’t follow the prices that closely, but I know the price of a fat hog has gone down drastically. The cattle market is really taking a beating. We should be hauling feeder calves out East in, say, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, West Virginia, and Virginia. But guys aren’t buying because of the uncertainty. The feedlots don’t want to buy because of uncertainty, so the futures are terrible.
This whole thing has been just a total trickle-down effect. I have friends who pull reefers and are parking their reefers and parking their trucks because the rates are non-existent. When I say non-existent, I mean they are very thin. The rates are just terrible. I discussed with my wife whether or not I should stay out longer. My wife and kids are at home. I was home over the Easter weekend. Before that, I was basically through the house for maybe 18 hours or 24 hours. It is getting a little bit scarier for me to go home. But we also discussed it and she said, ‘I want you to come home,’ so I’m going to come home. The one thing that does scare me is getting my family sick if I’m a carrier and I don’t know it.
Mike Landis: I’m hauling groceries right now. (Landis usually hauls food-grade liquids.) [The tanker business] got pretty slow. Everything fell off compared to when everyone was stocking up—probably to fill orders for people hoarding. I don’t know if that’s directly related to the current events or the [Easter] holiday because it’s very typical that the week before one of the major holidays where most places do shut down, that we become very slow. They try and use up the product they have in their tanks instead of keeping it full. I am hauling groceries for a friend of mine in New England because he is super busy. I’m very fortunate that I have some of these connections and hookups because we’re doing OK. But I know plenty of people who are trying to work off a load board, and they’re having a tough time. The loads aren’t there; it’s funky right now. There was nothing but trucks going for a while, and now truck traffic has dwindled. A friend of mine hauls swinging meat out of Chicago to New York City. He usually does around 11 to 12 loads a week. Right now, he’s down to one, maybe two loads if he’s lucky. The demand for certain things is falling off. And the companies that are producing this stuff just can’t keep up with what they normally would because they’re having employees call in sick.
As important as we truck drivers are in the transportation industry, we don’t really matter a whole lot if the people who make the stuff and load us can’t come to work. Without us, everyone’s kind of screwed, but without them we’re kind of screwed, too, which screws everybody else in the process. Everything has to mesh to keep everything going, you know?
[I worry about] the possibility of carrying COVID-19 home and giving it to my kids. We’re not home that much, so when I’m home my kids are hugging all over me and wanting to sit with me. I’d rather keep myself at risk out here, I guess, and make hay while the sun shines and do our part for the industry.
Ingrid Brown: You can say I’m doing pretty good under the circumstances. I’m finding the Pennsylvania rest stops are closed, but the travel plazas are open. Gosh, I’ve been to Washington, Florida, North Carolina, back up to Pennsylvania. I’ve been all over. I am hauling medical supplies, produce, nothing but essentials.
[In general,] demand for goods is down. You’ve got locations [like grocery stores] now in North Carolina where you have five people to every 1,000 square foot. It has definitely made a difference. Also, people overbought when they were panicking, so demand is less now.
As far as rates, they’re definitely lower, but after 40 years I have my contacts and my people, so I have no trouble getting good loads. If you’ve done your hard-earned work of going into places, forming relationships and making that stance as a carrier over the years, now’s the time that it’s going to show for you. You may not have seen why it was so important [in the past], well, hello, this is when those times and those relationships come about for you.
I went home but came straight back out and reloaded. And I won’t go home [anytime soon]. I’m the person who doesn’t have to, and this isn’t a negative; it doesn’t bother me a bit. I don’t have to worry about taking a virus home to somebody. Last thing, like I said [before], and I’ll say it over and over: America doesn’t need to panic. It doesn’t matter what happens because we drivers are there. We’ve always been there, we’ve come through in the crises, whether it be hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and pandemics. We’re not going anywhere. We’re your comfort zone, because you’re not going to do without.
Linda Caffee (who runs team with her husband Bob): It has slowed down some. We’re still out here, still running loads. I’m glad we have a choice of different types of freight. Now, we’re running hazmat. The food situation on the road is still good. We were at a truck stop, and the restaurant was closed but you could order online, or you can go up, and the person took your order. They had a limited menu; the server said their kitchen is really bare because they just aren’t having enough customers. She told us that they used to do an average of $5,000 a day on the weekends, and now it’s under a $1,000 a day. I’m just super impressed that they are staying open at this location.
We were at a Petro in Girard, Ohio, and the place was super clean. I was really impressed. We’ve mostly been going to TA Petros because I really believe they’re going above and beyond to keep everything going for us. The showers are clean and available, clean towels, the C-Stores are full. They had a lot of choices for sodas and other foods. They had to cancel their holiday meals, though. It was really kind of a downer because we’ve always enjoyed holiday meals inside the truck stops. But the way they’re suffering I don’t blame them a bit, and it also emphasizes how much truck stops are our home away from home. We’ve been out for a month. These truck stops really have our support through all this. Just tell everyone to keep their chin up. We’re going to get through this.
Jason Miller: Things have changed quite a bit since we spoke. Freight rates for owner-operators have gone down dramatically. Shippers and brokers are expecting us to pull loads for a dollar a mile as they have a stronghold on the market right now. Certain states, like Michigan, are banning the purchase of nonessential items. Not many people are going in the stores and buying everyday products like they would have prior to the COVID-19 issue. We used to have an abundance of loads to pick from in certain markets, now you’re seeing maybe 10 trucks to one toilet paper load. And guess what, nine trucks are not going to be as lucky as the number one truck.
I was going to do a dedicated Trane account, but they shut the plants down to sanitize and clean. I’ve not been able to service that account, so I’m having to deadhead 2,300 miles on a continuous basis to get heavy recyclable paper loads going back towards my area. My daily average has gone from about $800 a day to $500 a day. I’m losing $300 a day just to be able to operate. We have caught up on our bills and are about a month and a half ahead. After speaking with my family, we decided we’re going to get out of the truck for about 10 to 12 days and just stay home and see what happens. My son Logan is still handing out lunch bags to drivers two days a week. We’re going to apply for an application [to supply food at rest areas along with food trucks]. Logan is looking to try to establish a business of some sort. That’s his future plan right now—that and maintain school.
Joseph Graham: It’s business as usual. Our company, PVS Chemicals, retooled and made sure they got the right tools in the drivers’ hands. They’ve been very proactive about getting us hand sanitizer and gloves and doing everything they can to support us. They’ve been having weekly or biweekly meetings about where we’re at as a company, what we’re doing to keep everybody safe. The office personnel are all working from home, so it’s mainly us drivers that are just going into the facilities. A lot of us are like nomads. You get in and get out. I can’t say enough about what my company has done. They’ve gone above and beyond as far as I’m concerned.
As far as industrywide, it’s difficult to find food if you’re not at a truck stop. McDonald’s has taken some steps to make it easier. I’ve been in a day cab here the last couple of weeks, so that’s added a challenge to get food in the evenings. I started using DoorDash, which is a little bit more expensive than I would like, but it gets the job done. Companies are still restricting our accesses to places, and we’re still resigned to using Porta-Johns. I’ve got quite a few customers who have embraced a no-touch policy, and so they won’t even sign paperwork.
My approach to [the pandemic] is quite simple. You’re either going to get it or you’re not. You can be proactive, yes. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but when it comes down to it, if you’re going to come in contact with somebody with it, you’re going to come in contact with somebody with it. Luckily, I have minimal contact with people during the week. Most weeks I may interact with six to 12 people, and I try to keep a safe social distance from them. I hand them the paperwork, but I don’t get as close as I did in the past to be more personable. I guess the easiest way to put it is I’m not going to live my life in fear of it. I’ve got a job to do, and I’m going to do it. I don’t feel like I’m doing anything special.
Joey Slaughter: I’ve been home since April 3. I was on the road 28 days, which is long for me. I’m just taking time off and waiting for the economy to come back online. I’m hearing it’s pretty slow out there. My wife’s birthday was April 5, and she was nervous about everything going on and wanted me home. My concern for safety was never a factor. However, with the economy shut down in a major way, I want to wait at home until things start coming online again. I stayed out longer than normal because I suspected the economic slowdown would be coming soon, and I’d better be working while I could. Hopefully that last burst of work will carry me through to the other side of the slowdown. LATEST IN COVID-19 COVERAGE
SOURCE – www.trucker.com