We spent a few years mowing lawns in the summer and trucking in the winter before we knew we had to decide.
There was good money made while mowing lawns, and as much income as possible was put into savings. During the summer, as a truck would roll by on Highway 56 in Southwest Kansas, we would wonder where they were going. In time we had to admit to ourselves that it was time to decide to leave trucking or sell the lawn care business. It was not a hard decision.
The lessons learned while driving for a large fleet were put to good use. We knew that when we went back to trucking full time, it would be as Owner-Operators. Our research centered around becoming expediters. The more we read about expediting, the more we realized that it was a great fit. Hours and hours were spent reading forums, articles and magazines on expeditersonline.com and finally attending the Expedite Expo in July 2004.
At the Expedite Expo, we met other couples just like us researching the business, experienced expediters, recruiters, truck salespeople, and we attended all the workshops. With my notebook and pen in hand, we maximized our time and took copious amounts of notes. From what we learned, we determined that most expedite loads work best if you are a same household team, no children at home, and are able to stay out for months at a time. We had all of the above. Before we left the show, we knew which truck we were going to buy and what company we were going to lease on with. Finally, we were going to become Hired Guns.
Once home, the serious work began, and we also knew we needed to move. Southwest Kansas was a great place to raise a family, but is not a freight hub. Now, as owner-operators with business expenses, it was time to move, and we chose the center of the country. Once again, our family and friends (except our children) thought we had lost our minds as we sold almost everything we owned, including our home. We moved to the Saint Louis area into an apartment as we did not plan on spending much time there.
We picked up our first truck, a 2005 M2 40’ Freightliner straight truck with a 96” sleeper, and headed off to orientation. Orientation was very different as an owner-operator and as expediters. We learned there were no terminals, and we needed to learn a lot about freight securement quickly. As a business owner, there is no guarantee that we will make money, and our expenses do not dictate freight rates. Our model has always been very conservative, and we planned for high expenses and low income. Once we had a budget established, we were pretty sure we could make money, and income not needed would be saved for a rainy day. That still holds true many years later.
During orientation, we paid attention and took a lot of notes. Once we left orientation, we would be a true team for the first time. I found out I enjoyed driving the “little truck” as it was usually called, and the room in the sleeper was pure luxury. I had a sink and a nice sized refrigerator. Once orientation was over, the hard work began as Hired Guns.
Our first two loads were short, and yet we were exhausted as they were at night, and neither of us could sleep with the truck moving. At this time, we were still rookies in the owner-operator world, still thinking as we did when Bob drove, if the wheels are not turning, we are not making money. We had not learned the concept of “work smarter, not harder.”
Our third load had us picking up in Maine going to Nashville, TN, and we were off on our first true team load. We arrived at the shipper’s location at night, and Bob went over to check on our load. Out of the office, Bob comes to say our load was on one of their trucks, and they were not taking it off. This news was not good at all, as there are not many loads in Maine. We paid attention in orientation, and we were told never argue with a customer let our company handle it. We called in and were told to sit tight, and “we will let you know.” The first surprise was that the dispatcher answered the phone on the second ring and then said they would take care of the problem. In about five minutes, the customer came out to our truck and said they were unloading the trailer and would be loading us in about fifteen minutes. Do WHAT? We knew we had made the right choice with this company. In no time, we were headed south on our first long run. Now the problem came that we both had to sleep on the wonderful (sarcasm) roads in the northeast. Bob started driving south, and as my body bounced on the bed, the noise of the other vehicles zoomed by my head I began thinking of how we could declare bankruptcy. I was exhausted and had decided, maybe we were not going to be able to team drive if we could not learn to sleep in a moving truck.
Over our married life, we have driven all over the country, and either one of us could sleep when the other was driving. We never dreamed sleeping would be a problem. What we did not think about was that when it was our turn to drive, we had to drive a whole shift, not just an hour or two, and then switch off.
You’ll have to see how we finally started to become a team and a business owner in the next chapter...