Handy Truck Lines Keeps Focus On Agriculture-Related Markets

Although farming dominates the economy in southern Idaho, Handy Truck Lines has avoided handling raw products and focused on construction and agriculture-related markets, says Clay Handy, the company's vice-president and third-generation owner of the Paul, Idaho, business.

"We've tried to stay out of the crop stage," he says. "Instead, we've developed a finished-product service." As a result, the 70-year-old company founded by Clay's grandfather, Leo Handy, hauls granulated and liquid sugar, malt barley, cement, and lime. However, one concession is made for raw products. "We pick up beans in southern Idaho warehouses and haul them to a Mexican food processor in Salt Lake City, Utah," says Clay.

"Bulk sugar certainly offers a market we would like to tap further, and we are looking for other commodities in this geographical area," he says. "We expect to stay within a 300-mile radius of our terminals."

In addition to delivering bulk products in tank trailers, the company operates vans and flatbed trailers. Other business interests include bagging and selling concrete mix, lime, and salt; and offering truck, warehouse, and storage rentals. All of that business adds up to annual sales of approximately $5.5 million, about 50% coming from bulk transport.

Success has come from a willingness to diversify as the bulk market fluctuated, a business strategy begun by the senior Handy and passed down to his son, Donald Handy. Donald is now company president.

When Leo founded the company in 1928, he had one truck to deliver cans of milk to the Jerome, Idaho, Co-Operative Creamery. By the early 1950s, the creamery had closed and Leo had switched from transporting milk to hauling seed potatoes, brick, and lumber.

Donald joined the company in the 1950s when the business operated with seven trucks and included cement transport. Fuel price hikes in the 1970s prompted the Handys to add a variety of dry bulk products for diversification. When Clay entered the business in 1978, he was assigned management of 20 trucks, but service was dominated by one or two customers. Today, the company operates 50 units and serves many different customers and plans to expand.

The Handys believe in taking an active role in government and have a tradition of participating in Idaho legislative affairs, particularly where the transportation industry is involved. Leo, and his father before him, served in the state legislature, and Clay now chairs Idaho's motor carrier advisory committee. Donald currently holds the office of county commissioner. Clay is active in the Idaho Motor Transport Association, following in his grandfather's footsteps.

The company was awarded the Idaho Founders Award in 1980 as one of the oldest trucking companies in the state to be family-operated since its founding.

What has been the biggest job to date came in 1976 when Handy Truck Lines spent three years hauling cement into the Teton Dam project. The dam later washed away when it was being filled and took a Handy storage guppy two miles downstream with 100 tons of cement inside.

To operate in Idaho and adjoining states, the company has established satellite terminals near Pocatello and Boise, Idaho, where trucks are serviced in-house and fueled from diesel storage tanks at each location. The company has total diesel storage capacity of 56,000 gallons split among the three terminals. The terminals allow Handy Truck Lines to keep vehicles on the road and within reasonable distances of shippers and customers, a strategy that has proven itself over the years.

"Southern Idaho is pretty much small business," Clay says. "To be competitive, a company has to provide excellent service."

Another strategy begun by the senior Handy and continued by his son and grandson is reuse of parts from retired trailers. When trailers are no longer productive, their usable parts are removed and the bodies cut up and sold for scrap. Tractors are kept on the road for 700,000 to 900,000 miles. Clay attributes the long life of the vehicles to the professionalism of company drivers, who are assigned to designated tractors, and to the excellent work of mechanics.

While 48 of the drivers are full-time Handy Truck Lines employees, a local teacher, fireman, and banker fill in on a part-time basis. "They just like to drive trucks," Clay says. Unlike many companies in the bulk industry, Handy Truck Lines hasn't suffered a driver drain and has reaped the rewards from a stable workforce that enhances logistics and on-time deliveries. "We lose maybe one or two drivers a year," Clay says. "Out of 50 drivers, that's not bad. We have about 10 drivers who have been with us for more than 20 years."

A dress code is in force and uniforms will be compulsory, beginning next year. "Uniforms are a symbol of service, quality, and professionalism," he says.

Job performance is encouraged by a quarterly incentive program that gives $100 awards to drivers whose records are free of accidents and worker compensation claims. Drivers who are selected quarterly split an annual pool of $4,000.

Clay credits driver satisfaction and safety to careful selection of qualified applicants and thorough training. "We prefer for them to have all endorsements," he says. "It provides an incentive to know more about the vehicles and the products they carry."

Applicants must have previous truck driving experience and be at least 21 years old. Before they are allowed to drive tractors hauling doubles trains, the new-hires are trained with tractor-trailer rigs under the steady eye of senior drivers.

Once on the road, bulk product drivers are dispatched from the Paul and Boise locations via telephone and two-way radios for what are usually two to three loads per day.

Dispatchers are on the job five days per week and rotate Saturday duty. "Some shippers have routine requests for pickup and delivery, but most loads aren't scheduled," says Clay. "We know pretty much when we will be needed."

Some of the trucks run routinely on easy-to-maneuver highways in fair weather. Other routes require special handling, especially during the winter. One particularly challenging route snakes up mountain roads through a national forest to a gold mine where Handy Truck Lines delivers cement. Equipment on the trucks includes shovels and axes for fighting forest fires. The rough roads are hard on the trucks and tank trailers. "We don't measure wear on tires by the miles in those conditions. We measure it on number of trips," he says.

"All the drivers carry chains for use in snow. We have Kim Block Heaters to protect the engines at night," says Don. "But our drivers don't have a lot of trouble driving in winter conditions. It seems that they spend a lot of time helping other people."

Handy Truck Lines operates 18 sets of cement doubles that can be used singly or with pups, two sets of doubles and pups for lime, four semi-trailers for foodgrade dry bulk, four singles for liquid sugar, and four three-axle trailers used for fly ash from cement. Doubles are connected with a Premier pintle hook. Connections for the pups are made in-house to adapt to the Premier hook.

Cement trailers are primarily from Fruehauf and have 1,000-1,200-cubic-foot capacities, while the pups can carry 550 cubic feet of product, says Donald. Recent additions include four new three-axle trailers used for fly ash, a by-product from coal-fired electric plants. Fabricated by J&L Tank, the dry bulkers were specified with super single tires for hauling cement on rough mountain roads.

Trailers with 1,500-cubic-foot capacity are designated for barley. They, too, are long-time membersof the fleet and come from Polar, J&L Tank, and Fruehauf. Barley is one of the few products Handy Truck Lines transports outside its primary operating area. About three times a year, shipments are delivered to a brewery in Houston, Texas, says Donald. Lime trailers are utilized with a pup behind - 1,500-cubic-foot trailers and 750-cubic-foot pups. Newest trailers come from J&L Tank. "They make a lightweight trailer that we like," says Don. "We specify air-ride suspension."

A few Fruehauf, Polar, and Beall trailers are also used to transport lime. Trailers are equipped with Keystone valves. "We have a mix of componentry because we run the trailers for so many years," he says. "However, we've been able to get the parts that we need."

Generally, dry bulk tank trailers have PTO-driven Gardner Denver or M D Air Blower pumps mounted on the tractors and driven by the tractor PTO. Sure Seal is the current supplier of product valves on the dry bulk trailers.

A very small part of Handy Truck Lines' business is in dry sugar, less than 1%, says Clay. The product is picked up locally and delivered to confectioners in northern Utah. The trailers were originally constructed by Fruehauf and Beall. Liquid sugar, on the other hand, commands a higher percentage of business. Foodgrade tanks made by Polar and Bar-Bel have a capacity of 5,000 gallons and are new to the fleet within the past two years. They are equipped with Ibex pumps that run off a tractor hydraulic pump. Foodgrade valves are from Sure Seal, says Donald.

The tractor fleet designated for dry bulk is made up of Kenworth T800 conventionals with 430-horsepower Detroit Diesel Series 60 engines set for maximum speed of 68 miles per hour. They come equipped with Fuller 10-speed transmissions and Eaton drive axles with 4.11 ratios. "Driver acceptance of the Kenworths is good, they have good resale value, and the mechanics say they are easy to work on," says Clay.

Preventive maintenance, repairs, and inspections are conducted at the Paul headquarters in a new shop that includes a 110-foot service pit. Shops are also located at the Pocatello and Boise locations. Major tractor repairs are sent to outside vendors. Engine oil changes are conducted every 10,000 to 12,000 miles.

"We check trailers every couple of months - tires, valves, lights. We also examine the truck-mounted blowers regularly," says Clay. Handy Truck Lines' philosophy of extended life for equipment and recycling extends into the shop where used bulk oil is captured and sold to a paving company for use in its hot plant. Preserving equipment through careful maintenance has stood the test of time for the company throughout its 70 years no matter whether it was transporting milk in cans as it did in its beginning, or moving dry bulk in the latest equipment. It is a philosophy to carry into the 21st century.o

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