Maryland Dry Bulk Fleet Draws Attention with "No-Zone" Trailers

PRICE Trucking Inc, Aberdeen, Maryland, operates three of the most distinctive dry bulk trailers on the road. They are covered from front to rear with full-color decals promoting the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's "No-Zone" campaign.

The regional carrier claims to have been the first bulk fleet in the "No-Zone" program and has participated for the past four years. The company has received a tremendous amount of favorable publicity from the safety initiative that is designed to show motorists how to share the highway with the big rigs.

"These trailers are very visible, and we've gotten a lot of positive response from them," says Wayne E Price, company president. "We got involved in the program because a nearby decal company was making van trailer graphics for the "No-Zone" program. They had just produced a decal for tanks, and we were asked to try it out. We've been in the program ever since.

"As a `No-Zone' participant, we take part in a variety of public relations activities. Among other things, we go to local schools at least once a month."

Initiated in 1994 by the Federal Highway Administration, the "No-Zone" program is now under the direction of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The goal is to increase motorist awareness of "No-Zone" areas - blindspots around commercial vehicles in which smaller vehicles such as cars and motorcycles "disappear" from the view of the truck driver. FMCSA officials say the "No-Zones" are areas where collisions are more likely to occur.

Price Trucking is one of dozens of approved truck fleets that has volunteered to place vivid "No-Zone" graphics on the sides and rear of its trailers. The decals provide clear pictures of the blindspots around tractor-trailer rigs. Vehicles with the graphics bring the "No-Zone" safety message directly to motorists on the road.

Becoming involved in the "No-Zone" program was quite a step for the dry bulk hauler. The 45-year-old company traditionally maintained a low profile. "We've always been a quiet family-owned trucking company," Price says.

Dump Truck Business Price Trucking was started around 1955 as a dump truck operation by Dennis Price, Wayne's father. Dump trucks are still a part of the business, but they play a much smaller role today.

By the early 1990s, Wayne and his brother, David, had bought the company from their father. The company was running about 10 dump trucks at the time, but the brothers could see that dump truck activity had fallen off. The situation was not going to improve anytime soon. So they charted a new direction.

Dry Bulk Transition Between 1990 and 1992, the company made a successful transition into dry bulk hauling. A whole range of opportunities opened up, and the carrier now runs 75 tractors and 122 trailers. Besides the headquarters terminal in Aberdeen, the company has facilities in Frederick, Maryland, and York, Pennsylvania.

"Diversification was the best decision we could have made," Wayne Price says. "We've grown from a local company to a regional operator, and we're seeing more dry bulk products coming along all the time.

"For instance, golf courses are signaling a shift to bulk for bunker sand, greens mix (sand, peat moss, and turkey manure), and other materials. Most of those materials are hauled in dump trucks right now. Golf course managers say they plan to add storage silos."

Products handled by Price Trucking include cement, fly ash, sand, lime, alum, sodium sulfate, and a foodgrade ingredient that is used in toothpaste. The carrier transports bagged and bulk cement.

"One of our cement shippers asked us to take over their bagged shipments, so we added some platform trailers for that," Price says. "We're handling 50% to 75% of their bagged shipments now."

Two Divisions Operations are divided into two divisions - regional and over-the-road (OTR). Rigs assigned to the regional division concentrate on the gray cement that is the basic material for the broad range of construction projects. The rigs also transport fly ash and sand, among other cargoes.

Regional operations tend to be within a 250-mile radius of the terminal. Three loads a day is typical for each of the 38 tractors assigned to the regional division.

The OTR division concentrates on the white cement that is used in more decorative applications, such as building exteriors. The rigs assigned to this division are based at the York, Pennsylvania, terminal. They run up the eastern corridor into Canada, south to Georgia, and west into Wisconsin.

Most of the shipments are one-way, but Price Trucking has begun backhauling some lime from Ohio to the cement plant in York. Regardless of trip distance, though, rigs are back home by the weekend.

Fleet activity for both divisions is coordinated through a three-person central dispatch at the main terminal in Aberdeen. The dispatch office is staffed from 6 am to 6 pm Monday through Saturday, and drivers call in at least once a day.

Company Drivers Virtually all of the drivers are company employees. "We're running 98% company trucks right now," Price says. "I feel like I have more control over how company drivers work. Owner-operators are just a little too independent.

"We are aggressively seeking new drivers, and we're in good shape right now. We changed the driver pay plan last year to raise their wages across the board. Some of the money for the raise came from rate increases, but we took the rest right out of the bottom line."

Higher pay was crucial in the carrier's effort to continue attracting good-quality truck drivers. "We want quality people, and we are finding them," says Scott Gaddis, Price Trucking safety director. "It takes effort, and we had to park some trucks at the beginning of the year."

To be considered at Price Trucking, an applicant must be at least 21 years old and have a valid commercial driver license. The carrier will consider recent graduates from truck driving schools.

"We're more concerned with an applicant's driving record," Gaddis says. "A good driving record is essential. We want to see no more than a couple of moving violations, and we look very closely at accidents.

"We check all references. We reject just about any applicant with multiple job changes in the past year. We need to hear some pretty good reasons to make exceptions."

Orientation Program Newly hired drivers with a year or more of experience spend about three days in an orientation with a trainer. Those with less experience work with the trainer for at least three weeks. They just ride for the first couple of days and then progress to driving unloaded rigs. During the second week, they start operating loaded rigs.

All new hires, regardless of experience, receive instruction on loading and unloading procedures and blower operation. Trainers discuss the safety equipment that is required. The company supplies hard hats, safety glasses, hearing protection, and respirators as needed. Drivers are responsible for leather work boots, leather gloves, and rubber mallets.

Safety is stressed at all stages of the training. Price trucking holds monthly safety meetings, and drivers must attend at least one per quarter. Meetings typically are scheduled on the third Saturday of the month, and they last about an hour and a half. Attendance averages 20 to 30 drivers per meeting.

Out on the road, safe performance is enforced in a number of ways, including through DriverCheck. Gaddis says he looks for patterns in the DriverCheck reports, which often are generated by phoned-in complaints from motorists.

In addition, driver performance is tracked by computer. "We do performance reviews for the first three months of employment and then annually after that," Gaddis says.

While Price Trucking expects a lot from its drivers, the company works hard to keep them busy. Rigs in the regional operation run 90,000 to 100,000 miles a year, and the OTR trucks pile up even more mileage.

Premium Tractors The company also provides premium tractors and assigns just one driver per vehicle. "We give each driver a good looking tractor, because we want him to be proud of it," says David Price, vice-president of maintenance. "Drivers are allowed to take their tractors home to clean them."

The standard tractor for the fleet is the Kenworth T800, but the carrier buys W900 longnose conventionals for drivers who stay at least five years. The carrier runs both daycabs and sleepers. Tractors are on a five- to six-year trade cycle.

The newest tractors were specified with Diamond-level interiors that include high-back, air-ride driver seats from Seats Inc, a gauge package for the dash, and extra insulation. OTR tractors have air-ride seats on the driver and passenger sides.

Drivers get plenty of power with their tractors. Price trucking runs both 435-horsepower Caterpillar C12s and 500-hp Detroit Diesel Series 60s. Thirteen-speed Fuller transmissions predominate, but the carrier is running a few Eaton AutoShifts.

"We have 13 tractors with AutoShift transmissions now," Price says. "Drivers were a little nervous at first. Once they get comfortable with it, though, they don't want to give it up."

Extended life driveshafts, front suspensions, and brake systems have reduced the number of grease fitting on each tractor to 10. In addition, the carrier is testing Grease Jockey automatic lube systems on several vehicles. Other tractor components include dual exhaust stacks, Holland fifthwheels, aluminum wheels, and chrome bumpers.

Product handling equipment consists of Gardner Denver CDL9 blowers and Chelsea PTOs. "We mount our own blowers, but Kenworth gives us a clean frame and does all the setup work," Price says.

Dry Bulkers Dry bulk trailers are from a variety of manufacturers, but the newest units were supplied by Heil Trailer International and its J&L subsidiary. Capacity ranges from around 985 cubic feet to 2,600 cubic feet.

Trailer hardware includes Sure Seal butterfly valves and aerators, Knappco check valves and dome lids, Bayco pressure-relief valves, PT Coupling couplings, and Goodall hoses. For running gear, the trailers have Hendrickson Intraax air suspensions, Meritor WABCO antilock braking, Michelin tires, and Alcoa aluminum disc wheels.

Widebase single tires were specified on two of the dry bulk trailers. The 425/80R22.5 tires cut about 400 pounds in tare weight from each trailer. The trailers with the singles are capable of payloads ranging from 26.5 to 28 tons.

All of the trailers and tractors in the fleet are configured for maximum payload. "Our objective is to put 27 tons of payload on each rig," Price says. "Even with the sleeper tractors, we're able to get a 26-ton payload. We do that without sacrificing durability."

Preventive Maintenance An aggressive preventive maintenance program helps to keep vehicles in top shape. Power units are serviced and inspected every 5,000 miles, and trailers are on a 45-day cycle. During each inspection, mechanics check tire pressure, fluid levels, and brake adjustment.

Engine oil changes are done at 15,000-mile intervals. Tires are rotated at 30,000 miles. Engine and blower air filters are replaced every 60,000 miles.

Everything possible is done to ensure that Price Trucking can deliver on-time, reliable service. Attention to detail is one of the key reasons that the company continues to achieve success in attracting a wider range of dry bulk cargoes.

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