To say that the first year was a stressful learning curve is an understatement.
In 2005 we were new owner-operators learning about expediting and becoming an efficient team. Our nerves were often frazzled, and our emotions were on a bungee cord of super highs and low lows. We had to get over the driver mentality of being told every move to make, where to get fuel, how much fuel to get, where to park, and how long to park.
Our first week on the road had a funny twist! We had no problems in orientation as our paperwork was all in order, so we thought.
As I was driving on I-95 in Connecticut, the phone rang, and it was the company we were leased to saying, “I needed to take a driving test.” While I had my Class A license, it was discovered that I did not have any logbook experience. How comical that I was driving in one of the busiest parts of the country, and now I needed to prove I could drive. After we delivered near Nashville, TN, I was scheduled to have a test drive with an instructor from the local truck driving school on a ride-along, and he would evaluate my skills. I was a nervous wreck, as we pulled onto the school grounds and the instructor climbed in.
Bob was just as worried because, if I did not pass this test, our trucking business would be in jeopardy.
The instructor had me drive through town, making left and right turns, drive up onto the interstate, and finally back into a parking spot. I was proud when he told me he would have no problems sleeping behind me as I drove!
That cost $100.00 to pass that little test, and we were good to go as team drivers.
When we would park, Bob would immediately start going over the truck to make sure everything was in perfect mechanical order. He polished that truck until I wondered if he would rub through the paint. I fussed over our expenditures and continuously worried about unexpected bills, which consisted mainly of taxes. The first time we filled the truck, I had a little sticker shock as the bill was over $200.00. Both of us were ultra-conservative, Bob worried the truck might break down, and I worried that we might get a bill that we could not pay.
When Qualcomm would beep, both of our hearts would skip a beat as we read the load details and then discussed taking the load or not. We refused very few loads as we were still learning our boundaries and expenses. At this point, we had not a clue of how much income we needed per mile or how much we needed per day to stay profitable. We took the loads offered, and we made money.
As new expediters, we asked questions of everyone about everything! How to secure freight, what areas of the country were the best for freight (we had not learned that a reefer’s good area to find freight was not the same for a dry box), how long to sit and wait for a load, and the question that got the worst answer, how much they ran per mile. The information about how to secure freight was invaluable and also where to position the freight in the box. Coming from pulling 53’ trailers to a 20’ box that was never full, presented unique challenges. We learned the hard way about where to load the freight when we got our first and only overweight ticket, and had to pay to have someone move the freight. The guy that moved the two pallets was a wealth of information, and he really helped Bob get his head around how to load the freight. Both of us felt he was worth every penny we paid him.
My inexperience driving in large cities and dealing with a lot of traffic kept my stress level high. When I would see a detour sign ahead, my heart would quit, or if I knew I was going to have to make a lot of directional changes within a city. I kept a pad beside me with the roads I knew I was going to have to take, I wrote large, so it was easy to see. No matter what I did to prevent the fright of getting lost, it did not help much. We started learning about GPS’s, and finally, we bought one! It was like a new sunny day as I learned how to use the GPS, and I had time to get into the correct lane for my next turn, and if I had to take a detour, I knew how to get back to my original pass. I became a much calmer driver with a GPS as my backup. The first GPS was not a truck specific GPS, and it knew nothing about low overpasses or hazmat routes. We knew we were still driving the truck, and the GPS was there to assist, not dictate.
The information we received from other drivers about freight rates, we learned over time, was really bad information; how much others thought we needed to run per mile, cheap freight, and the best one, “I would rather run empty then haul cheap freight”. Quickly we learned our expenses, areas of good freight, and how much we really needed to make per mile. Each month I put every cent possible into a savings account, and we took very little time off. We did not take advantage of the areas of the country we were in to see the sights, as our nose was always to the grindstone.
Our savings account is what saved us that first year as each time our estimated taxes came due, the amount was astronomical. When I would ask other drivers about their estimated taxes, the amount we paid was three or four times more than what they paid. By the end of the year, when we had our taxes figured, we again owed thousands of dollars, and I knew it was time to have another truck accountant examine our expenses. It was a very smart move to get a second opinion as we got everything back that we had paid in, and a small refund. Lesson learned if it sounds wrong, don’t wait so long to get a second opinion.
We also learned to fine-tune our business and that the speed limit is not the speed we had to run. A small notebook was kept near the dash, and we started tracking our fuel mileage, and it became apparent quickly that our truck did much better at 58 mph. Our fuel mileage became a competition between Bob and me to see who could do better, and as a result, our fuel costs went down.
The first year we both had a lot to learn, and in Part 7, I will discuss how I learned to back the truck confidently and other areas of concern.