New Coal City Cob terminal in Illinois marks latest development for carrier

A NEW $1.2 million, 14,000-square-foot terminal in Illinois is the latest development in the three-decade growth of Coal City Cob Co Inc, Avalon, Texas. What began as a company hauling corncobs in 1970 has blossomed into a $12-million hazardous waste and chemical carrier that operates 200 tank trailers across the United States and into Canada and Mexico.

“We owned four and one-half acres in Coal City, Illinois, where the company got its start, but the land was leased to another company,” says Michael Cloonen, president. “When we had the opportunity to regain the property, we decided to build the new office. It is almost identical to the one in Avalon. We already had a shop on the site in Coal City, so the new facility made sense. Now we have 25 tractors and 50 trailers at the new terminal.”

A similar decision was made in 1998 when Cloonen added chemical transportation to the company's services and selected Houston, Texas, as the base for that operation. Although Houston first attracted his eye as a hazardous waste market, the area's opportunity for chemical loads was an added bonus. In 1999, Cloonen hired Randy Wasson to head up the chemical division and develop the chemical business in Illinois as well as Houston. With Wasson on board for chemical expertise and Cloonen using his experience for the waste side, the management structure was in place.

Today, Houston is home for 23 power units and about 40 chemical and vacuum tank trailers. Chemicals hauled include resins, solvents, deicers, and fatty acids. “We bring in the chemicals and remove hazmat wastes,” says Cloonen. “However, the majority of our business in Houston is in the waste sector.”

The Houston foothold was a continuation of the company's movement south from its roots in Illinois. Founded by his father, Adrian Cloonen, in 1970, the company hauled corncobs to processors who ground them, mixed them with chemicals, and used them in the production of insecticides. (The senior Cloonen remained president of the company until his death in 1997.)

“Corn cobs have been good to us,” the son says. A lateral diversification in 1976 led to the purchase of tank trailers to haul waste fuel.

In 1987 the younger Cloonen headed for Texas with one truck and a vision to enlarge the company's prospects. A fuel reclamation plant in Avalon, about 50 miles south of Dallas, attracted his attention. The plant produced treated hazardous waste used as fuel in cement kilns. Knowing he would be able to transport the waste material, Cloonen added the company to its customer base. At first, he was hauling product outbound from the plant, but soon began providing inbound service. Owned by Philip Services Corp today, the plant has had several owners. Through the years, they all retained Coal City Cob as their carrier.

In 1996, Cloonen built a 16,000-square-foot facility next door to the Avalon plant. It became the company headquarters. There are 22 tractors and 60 tank trailers at the Coal City Cob headquarters. The carrier also runs flatbeds, vans, and rolloff trailers, in addition to the vacuum trailers. All in all, services break down to about 50% for chemical transportation and 50% for waste hauling and incident response.

Coal City Cob has maintained a steady growth despite the downturn in the national economy, rising fuel and insurance premium costs, and driver retention challenges. “The big crunch is insurance,” Cloonen says. “I think we are going to see the industry with a lot of parked trucks because of the insurance burden. At the end of 2001, I received phone calls from three competitors who were trying to sell their businesses.”

At the same time, he is projecting Coal City Cob revenue to reach $13 million in 2002. Part of that confidence is the result of a steady flow of hazmat wastes that have to be transported to accommodating facilities. “Companies are trying to reduce their on-site wastes, and many receive tax credits for the reduction,” Cloonen says. “That adds up to more business for us.”

To serve customers, and to keep vehicles on the road, Coal City Cob employs 30 company drivers and 40 owner-operators. Cloonen retains a commercial driver license (CDL) in order to get behind the wheel, if needed.

Prospective drivers must be at least 25 years old. “The insurance companies want the older driver,” says Cloonen. “If we want to hire someone younger than 25 we have to get approval from the insurance company.” Coal City Cob further requires two years of hazmat experience for driver applicants. No applicants will be accepted for consideration if they have more than one moving violation on their records.

New hires typically receive four days of classroom training from two full-time company instructors. Training covers company policies, Department of Transportation regulations, defensive driving, and hazardous materials handling. On-the-road training varies, based on individual experience.

“I estimate we spend from $3,500 to $4,000 to train a new driver,” says Cloonen. “Our guys are so versatile. They are qualified for the tank trailers, flatbeds, and vans.”

Drivers carry beepers or mobile phones for communication with the office. They call dispatchers each afternoon to check schedules. Each terminal has a dispatch department, but a director of logistics based in Avalon oversees the total operation.

The fleet is comprised of Stainless Tank & Equipment Inc, Heil International, and Brenner tank trailers supplied through Stuart Tank Sales Corp. The ST&E DOT407/412 stainless steel vacuum trailers used for hazardous wastes have a 7,000-gallon capacity and are equipped with Betts valves and Girard vents. Battioni Franco and National Vacuum Equipment vacuum pumps are mounted on the trailers.

Running gear includes the Hendrickson Intraax suspension/axle system and Haldex antilock braking. An Engler hubodometer is mounted at streetside on the front axle.

Heil DOT407 trailers are insulated and have a 7,000-gallon capacity. The stainless steel single-compartment heated trailers are rated at 300°F and are equipped with Betts valves and Fort Vale vents and domelids.

The running gear includes Hutchens spring suspensions, Dana Spicer axles, and MeritorWABCO antilock braking. Holland Binkley supplies landing gears.

The DOT407 7,000-gallon insulated tank trailers supplied by Brenner have Betts valves, Girard vents, and Fort Vale man-ways. Suspensions are from Hutchens Industries. Holland Pro-Par furnishes axles, and MeritorWABCO provides antilock braking. Landing gear is from Jost. An Enerpac hydraulic pump is located on the curbside landing gear frame rail.

The fleet also includes 15 Tankcon fiberglass reinforced plastic vacuum trailers. The 5,500-gallon DOT412 tank trailers are equipped with Asahi valves, Girard vents, and Betts domelids. Running gear includes Dana Spicer axles, Hendrickson suspensions, Haldex antilock braking systems, and Holland Binkley landing gear. All trailers have Truck-Lite lighting and wiring.

Coal City Cob chooses to wrap and secure hoses on company-installed racks mounted to the rear of the tractor cab rather than placing them in hose tubes on the trailer.

Roper and Ranger product pumps are mounted on the tractors. All pumps, including vacuum pumps on the vacuum trailers, are powered by a hydraulic system designed inhouse. Hydraulic fluid for the system is stored in one compartment of the two-compartment fuel tanks specified for the Peterbilt tractors.

The tractors also are specified to reduce weight. Part of the weight reduction is accomplished by a Peterbilt Flex Air aluminum suspension that weighs 19,500 pounds. Tractors also have Alcoa aluminum wheels.

The newest Model 379 conventionals are supplied by LaBeau Brothers. They are equipped with Caterpillar C12-308/430 engines, 10-speed Eaton Fuller transmissions, and Dana Spicer tandem-drive axles with a 3.70 ratio. Antilocking brake systems are from MeritorWABCO.

To enhance driver acceptance for comfort, Coal City Cob specifies 63-inch sleeper Ultracab with a 260-inch wheelbase. Drivers also like the automatic identification system from PrePass that allows precertified vehicles to bypass inspection stations in certain states.

The Peterbilts come with five-year or 500,000-mile warranties. A Caterpillar Fleet Information (CFI) software package monitors fuel usage, speed, and idling. Preventive maintenance is scheduled every 12,000 miles and includes an oil and filter change. Ninety-day and 180-day visual inspections also are on the schedule.

The shops in Avalon and Cob City are registered under the Research and Special Programs Administration requirements for inspecting and testing of cargo tanks. The Avalon shop employs five mechanics, and three mechanics are based in Cob City.

The parts departments have a software package from Peterbilt that enables dealers to monitor Coal City Cob tractor parts inventory. In addition, all parts for tractors and trailers have bar codes. The data is stored in the company's customized programs that utilize filePro, a database management tool from fP Technologies Inc.

Taking advantage of available technology and upgrading equipment has played a significant role in the company's ability to diversify and grow, Cloonen says. Part of today's growth has called for the addition of eight new Peterbilts this year. As for the future, Cloonen says he is evaluating the waste and chemical markets, and waiting to see how the overall national economy will perform in 2002. But if the past is any indication, the company seems positioned for more growth.

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