Horizon Tank Lines Taps Potential in Southeastern US Chemical Market

Oct. 1, 1998
In the autumn of 1994, Charles Collie, now president of Horizon Tank Lines of Durham and Wilmington, North Carolina, recognized a need for an additional

In the autumn of 1994, Charles Collie, now president of Horizon Tank Lines of Durham and Wilmington, North Carolina, recognized a need for an additional chemical carrier in the coastal region of the southeastern United States.

"At that time, I was a shipper, so I was aware of the situation," says Collie. "There was a place here for a small, safety-oriented business. We decided to form this specialized company. Our decision was really market-driven."

Four years later, Charles and his brother, Paul Collie, vice-president, are operating a chemical fleet of 45 tank trailers and 30 tractors that reap annual sales of over $3 million. Four new tractors are on order and recent augmentations to the tank trailer fleet add up to a $750,000 capital investment this year. The company that began with three tractors and six tank trailers has achieved 48% to 50% annual growth since inception.

"We surrounded ourselves with good people," says Paul. "Our employees and owner-operators are the keys to our success."

The company transports chemicals such as caustic soda; glycols; liquid aluminum; acetone; methyl ethyl ketone; miscellaneous alcohols; methanol; and sulfuric, hydrochloric, and acetic acids. A majority of the products, both domestic and foreign, arrive via ships to the port in Wilmington where they are stored until transferred to carriers, says Charles.

Horizon Tank Lines delivers product to manufacturers, including plants for specialty chemicals, textiles, paint and coatings, and pulp and paper. Chemicals also are hauled to municipalities for use in water-treatment plants.

Tractor-trailer rigs travel an average one-way trip of 200 miles, dispatched by Horizon Tank Lines from terminals in Wilmington and Charleston, South Carolina. Customers dispatch other jobs in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Collies are scheduled to open a terminal in November in Orlando, Florida, and Greensboro, North Carolina, and others are being considered for Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Savannah, Georgia.

The Orlando terminal will service numerous orange juice manufacturing plants, says Charles. By-product from orange peel will be transported to plants that are manufacturing citrus-based cleaning agents.

Dedicated to the job will be four 7,500-gallon Polar double conical tank trailers and three Kenworth T800 tractors with 62-inch Aerocab sleepers. "From now on, we are ordering air-ride equipment for all tractors and trailers," says Charles. The units will be based at the company's new terminal in Orlando.

In addition to expansion outside North Carolina, plans are on the drawing board for a terminal and storage location at a Durham rail spur. With trucks on site, the company can fill the gap when rail deliveries are backed up.

"This is one other way for us to grow," says Charles. "Since we started the business, we have grown more than we projected. We've been named among the top 50 growing companies for the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill triangle. Growth by acquiring other companies doesn't seem to be the path for us. We want to stay lean and mean and do what we do best. Safety and service are top priorities.

"We're really proud of our record of 2.2 million miles with no at-fault accidents. We've had no lost-time injuries or contaminated loads. Safety is a job requirement. You have to take care of your people, and we do that by emphasizing safety training. We try to practice what we preach. We don't cut rates and hire unqualified drivers."

While Charles' past experience was as a shipper, his brother was familiar with tractor and tank trailer equipment. Charles directed transportation and chemical purchasing. Paul holds a commercial driver license with a tank endorsement and has often pitched in as a driver. It's not surprising, then, that Charles is the company's sales director and Paul heads up the transportation department.

"I have serviced most of our customers," says Paul. He adds that his experience as a driver has helped in understanding company drivers' duties and preserving the company's driver retention, including the owner-operators.

"We have about an 8% annual driver turnover rate," he says. "I think the industry's rate is about 75%. We spend a lot of time getting to know drivers - sometimes two or three months - because it is so important for safety, retention, and service. Our training program is customized to fit each applicant's ability. It's driver specific. After they have been trained and are on the road, we give a lot of freedom to our drivers, and they have accepted the responsibility that comes with that freedom."

The average years of experience per driver is about 11 years. They are trained to handle hazardous materials under Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines, says Paul. Drivers also receive specific product training for emergency response and use of personal protective equipment. They are taught how to complete material safety data sheets.

A 10-step emergency procedure booklet is located in each truck, and drivers are required to attend annual and quarterly safety meetings. Monthly meetings are conducted for those who have been unable to attend the other training sessions. Spill training is also conducted.

Drivers are supplied uniforms, chemical safety suits, aprons, gloves, goggles, safety glasses, full-face shields, respirators, safety straps for locking down hoses, hard hats, and steel-toed chemical-resistant boots.

Drivers are offered monthly and yearly monetary incentives based on records of safety, service to customer, attitude, and truck, driver, and equipment appearance. A driver of the month is selected each month, and the monthly winners compete for the final driver of the year and its $1,000 bonus.

Of the 30 drivers, 18 are company employees and 12 are owner-operators. The latter are required to have tractors powered to haul a 48,000-pound load. Pumps and compressors must be mounted on the tractors.

"Drivers are usually home at night," says Paul. "Some are used for specific customers by the customers' requests. We have strict call-in requirements - after every delivery, every afternoon when finished, and when delays occur. They have either cell phones or pagers to stay in contact with the dispatchers. When the weather is threatening, especially if there is sleet on the highways, we want them to call in if they think it is not safe to be on the road. We can postpone the delivery to later in the day."

Dispatches are picked up the day before delivery. Routine deliveries typically occur between 3 am and 5 pm, but the company operates Monday through Sunday around the clock.

Meeting the demands of shippers and customers requires well-maintained equipment designed for chemical products. For general chemical loads, Horizon Tank Lines uses Polar DOT407 tank trailers that have a capacity of 7,000 gallons. The trailers carry caustic soda, glycols, liquid aluminum, acetone, methyl ethyl ketone, and miscellaneous alcohols.

Designed with both rear and side discharge capability, the trailers are equipped with Betts valves, PTO-driven Blackmer pumps mounted on the tractor, Polar manholes, and Girard vents. They have Meritor axles and brakes, Reyco Transpro suspensions, Alcoa aluminum wheels, and Truck-Lite lights. Fenders, bumpers, underride protection, and hose trough are stainless steel. Tare weight of the trailers ranges from 11,500 to 12,000 pounds. Loaded, they will haul 50,000 pounds of product.

"Drivers like having the choice of either side or rear discharge on the DOT407," says Charles. "We also specify Bridgestone tires for all our vehicles. They hold up under the tank application, and resale of the casing is good. We don't use recaps because we know they aren't safe enough for hauling chemicals."

To carry methanol and lighter solvents, the company has chosen DOT406 tank trailers fabricated by Polar. The 8,500-gallon trailers are equipped with Polar vapor recovery systems and domelids and Betts valves. They have Alcoa wheels, Meritor axles and brakes, and Truck-Lite lights. "We use an aluminum underride guard, hose tube, bumpers, and fenders, which gets the tare weight down to 9,500 pounds," says Paul. "The trailers will haul 53,000 pounds of product."

Three unlined and two rubber-lined DOT412 trailers are in the fleet. The linings for the two trailers were installed by OBI Lining Inc in Chocowinity, North Carolina. Unlined trailers are used for sulfuric and acetic acid transport while lined trailers carry hydrochloric acid. "This was just another market niche we wanted to develop," says Charles.

Volvos were the first tractors purchased for the fleet and came with Cummins 370-horsepower engines, Fuller 10-speed transmissions, Jacobs engine brakes, and Meritor drive axles with a 4.11 ratio.

Recent additions to the fleet are leased from PacLease. Horizon Tank Lines now specifies Kenworth T800 tractors with Caterpillar 380-410 variable horsepower engines and Fuller 10-speed transmissions. They have Kenworth suspensions, Eaton rear axles with a 3.7 ratio, and Spicer Solo Seven Spring clutches. "These tractors have a 52-inch fifthwheel that provides the angle needed to ensure good drainage and reduce heel retention," says Paul.

"We're very anxious to avoid a collection of heel and have been able to reduce the residue. That really helps to cut our tank wash costs."

Weight-saving components are present in Kenworth's Airglide 200 suspension and composite front springs, both proprietary lightweight components, and provide a comfortable ride for the driver.

Routine maintenance on the tractors and trailers is conducted in Wilmington. The maintenance service is also available to the owner-operators. Tractors are serviced every 12,000 miles, and trailers are lubed every quarter or 20,000 miles. A local tire repair service is under contract for on-site tire repairs at the terminal.

Adjacent to the shop is a covered outdoor washing facility. Used primarily for external cleaning with a high-power pressure system, the tank wash also has a Sellers spinner system for flushing and steaming internally between loads of caustic soda. A Delco boiler heats water for steam to 330 F. Major internal tank washing required for product changes is sent out to Philip Services, Four Seasons, or Mast Tank Cleaning.

"Our philosophy is to repair equipment before it becomes a problem," says Charles. "We encourage our drivers to report any problems directly to the mechanic. That's another reason we choose and train our drivers so carefully. We believe that communication between all departments is directly related to safety and the success of this company."