Redundant Cleaning Systems Enable Lawson To Meet Key Customer Needs

AS THE house carrier for the Cargill vegetable oil processing plant in Gainesville, Georgia, Charles G Lawson Trucking Inc must meet some exacting requirements. Perhaps most importantly, the carrier must be able to provide clean, reliable tanker rigs virtually at a moment's notice.

To meet that objective, Charles G Lawson Trucking has expanded its tank trailer fleet to 56. In addition, the carrier's terminal in Gainesville has a two-bay wash rack that has been outfitted with redundant wash systems to prevent unscheduled downtime in the tank cleaning operation.

A two-bay, well-equipped maintenance shop ensures that vehicle problems are fixed promptly.

"We're ready to go when Cargill calls," says Charles G Lawson, president of the Montgomery, Alabama-based trucking company that bears his name. "Our goal is to deliver outstanding service with every load. Cargill and our other customers know they can count on us to meet their transport requirements.

"We've received several awards acknowledging our efforts. We were named "Supplier of the Year" in 1997 by Cargill. Mead Johnson gave us a service excellence award in 1995 for our accomplishments in transporting vegetable oil to one of their baby formula plants."

Work Ethic The work ethic and desire to provide outstanding service were evident from the very beginning for the trucking company. Lawson started in 1972 with a single tractor-trailer rig hauling livestock. Five years later, the company was up to 15 rigs.

"Livestock hauling was too sporadic, so I shifted into reefer operations," Lawson says. "My primary refrigerated customer was the John Morrell meat packing plant in Montgomery. Refrigerated hauling remains a big part of our business today, and we also have vans. We are solely a foodgrade carrier, though."

Today, Charles G Lawson Trucking runs 65 refrigerated trailers and 55 vans, in addition to the 56 foodgrade tankers. Tractors number approximately 115, including 15 from owner-operators. The refrigerated vehicles and vans are based in Montgomery, and the tanks are divided among terminals in Port Barre, Louisiana, and Gainesville.

As the company grew, Lawson brought in family members and close friends to help him manage the operation. It is very much a family business today. Lawson's wife (Mae) and three daughters (Pam, Patty, and Pennie) are active in the company, as are two sons-in-law. Vice-president William H (Billy) Rotton (nephew) has been with the company for 25 years. Billy's wife (Shirley) also works for the company. Lifelong friend Waldon Warr was lured out of retirement to serve as terminal manager in Gainesville, and Lawson's nephew (Kevin) dispatches all of the tanks from the Gainesville office. Bulk Opportunity

Since the early 1980s, Charles G Lawson Trucking was transporting packaged shipments in vans for Lou Ana Foods. In 1988, Don Gulley, traffic manager at the food processor's vegetable oil plant in Opelousas, Louisiana, asked if Lawson would be interested in bulk hauling.

"He said bulk shipments were increasing, and they needed a dedicated carrier that was willing to build a terminal near their plant," Lawson says. "By October of that year, we were in the foodgrade tank business with 10 trailers and a terminal in nearby Port Barre.

"We obtained additional bulk vegetable oil business in the form of backhauls from Cargill in Gainesville. By 1990, we had a contract with Cargill, and we had assigned two tanker rigs to that operation. We now handle about 98% of the shipments from the Cargill plant, and most of our tank trailers are assigned to the Gainesville terminal."

As the activity with Cargill grew, managers at Charles G Lawson Trucking realized they needed a larger terminal. The site they chose for the new terminal is right across the street from the Cargill plant. They also determined that the amount of tanker activity justified a wash rack at the new terminal.

Enlisting the help of Patti Ballou, traffic manager at the Cargill plant at the time, Lawson visited several wash racks in the Midwest to observe the systems they had in place. "Patti helped a great deal because she knew the Cargill requirements," Lawson says. "We wanted to make sure that we met their requirements. Cargill inspects our wash rack twice a year, just as they do any other facility that they have approved."

Two-Bay Rack The study and planning effort took about 90 days, and the wash rack was operational within six months. The two-bay facility is running 12 to 14 hours a day now, and the six-man crew can clean about 15 tanks a day, with another 10 or so touchups. Volume could be boosted with another shift. The kosher-certified wash rack provides some tank cleaning for Cargill customers, but it is not open to the public. "We may clean three to four outside tanks a week, but that's about all," Warr says. "We're too busy with our own fleet to go looking for outside business."

Interior cleaning needs are met with two Kelton units that deliver hot water at 35 gallons per minute and 600 psi. Exiting water temperature is around 210 degrees F. Air-operated spinners are from Spraying Systems Inc.

"We're very pleased with the Kelton system," Lawson says. "It does what Ben Kelly said it would do, and his team has helped us work out any problems. We chose Kelton because it is a high-pressure/low-volume system. We wanted to limit the amount of wastewater because we are releasing it into the city sewer. The city monitors our effluent discharge very closely.

"We started with one Kelton unit when we built the wash rack in 1993, and we added a second one about six months ago. We decided we needed a backup unit because we simply can't afford for the wash rack to be down. We have to be able to take care of our customer. We also have dual air compressors, which are needed to run the spinners. We alternate both wash systems and compressors from week to week. The only factors we can't control are water, gas, and electricity."

Cargill requires the inside of the tank be sanitized at 180 degreesF or above for 15 minutes. It normally takes 12 to 14 minutes of hot water rinse to reach this temperature. By the time the cycle is completed, the inside temperature is 190 degrees F or above. All temperatures are recorded at the discharge valve. Temperature records of all washes are kept for future reference.

Tank Entry Wash workers rarely enter the tanks. The only exceptions are trailers that have carried crude vegetable oil. For those units, a wash worker will go inside with a pressure washer and will use cold water to flush product that has adhered to the tank walls. Then the sanitizing process begins with the spinners. Workers never enter a hot tank.

Tank and pump hardware and fittings are disassembled before the wash process begins and are placed in baskets. The components are washed with a high-pressure wand while the tank is being cleaned. Hoses also are cleaned with the tank. Effluent from the cleaning operation is collected and routed to the pretreatment system. Between 10,000 and 12,000 gallons a day are treated, and wastewater awaiting treatment is stored in a 5,000-gallon holding tank. CETCO's reactive separating agent, a clay product, is used to trap solids in two settling tanks-one with a 2,500-gallon capacity and another that holds 4,000 gallons. Ferric sulfate and lime are used to adjust pH.

The solids are routed to an Alar drum-style vacuum press and are collected in a refuse container for disposal. The treated water is pumped through a Hayward high-capacity sand filter that was adapted from swimming pool applications. From there, the water is released to the sewer.

Vegetable oil accounts for about 95% of the tanker activity, but the carrier also hauls cream yeast, vinegar, spring water, pepper mash for hot sauce, and some wine. "Bakeries in the southeastern region are shifting to cream yeast, and we see that as a growth area," Lawson says. "We have developed the bulk yeast business through contacts we had already established with the bakery companies."

Liquid edibles hauling activity for Charles G Lawson Trucking is concentrated in the southeastern United States. "We make a lot of runs from Gainesville to Atlanta (Georgia), a trip of about 60 miles," Warr says. "Short trips mean many of our drivers can haul two loads a day. Rigs in the tank fleet average over a load a day."

Trip distances are growing somewhat with some runs of 600 miles plus. In most cases, loads are available only one way. In those cases where backhauls can be arranged, trailers are cleaned at Cargill-approved foodgrade racks, such as Mast Bros Tank Cleaning in Charlotte, North Carolina, and P&R Tank Lines of Baltimore (Maryland).

The tank trailers used in the operation all meet foodgrade requirements. Some of the older units are MC307 tanks that have been used to transport beverage alcohol, but recent orders have been for 3A sanitary-style tanks constructed of 304-grade stainless steel with a #4finish. The newest units have come from Walker Stainless Equipment, and the carrier has worked with Mike Tandy to tailor specifications to its needs.

Capacity in the single-compartment tanks is 6,500 gallons. They have in-transit heat and are insulated with three inches of polyurethane foam. Hardware includes Thomsen and Bray butterfly outlet valves and Walker domelids with Olsen pressure/vacuum-relief vents.

Twenty-foot hoses are carried in 22-ft aluminum hose tubes. Fenders also are aluminum. Among other components are Jost landing gear, Hendrickson Intraax air suspension, Meritor-WABCO antilock braking, Conmet aluminum hubs, Alcoa aluminum wheels, and 275/80R24.5 Michelin XT-1 tires.

At the rear of every trailer is a two-door stainless steel pump cabinet. Charles G Lawson Trucking specifies Flowtech and Ibex stainless steel pumps powered by tractor-mounted hydraulics. Drum and Roper oil coolers are part of the hydraulics on the tractors.

Conventional Tractors The carrier runs only Freightliners for company tractors. All are conventionals and have mid-roof cabs with 60-inch sleepers. Caterpillar and Detroit Diesel engines are specified, and horsepower ranges from 365 to 435. Also part of the drivetrain are Fuller 10-speed transmissions and Meritor drive tandems.

The tractors have been made as comfortable as possible, and that is important, according to Lawson. "The driver supply remains tight, but we've been able to keep our trucks rolling," he says. "One reason is that our turnover is just 10% to 15% a year. Between 25% and 30% of our tanker drivers have been with us since we opened the Gainesville terminal."

To find drivers, the company advertises in local newspapers and offers its own drivers bonuses to recommend qualified candidates. Driving schools have not been a source of new drivers for the fleet.

"We need people with experience, especially in the tanker operation," Lawson says. "We ask for at least two years of over-the-road truck driving experience."

Not surprisingly, the youngest drivers at the company are around 26 years old. The average age is 35.

Each terminal hires its own drivers, and new hires are paired with an experienced driver for a couple of weeks of on-the-job training. At the rate the foodgrade tanker operation is growing, the terminals will be kept busy finding more and more drivers.

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