Peterbilt Conventionals Promote Professional Image for CEG Fleet

Nov. 1, 1997
PETERBILT conventionals give a distinctive look to the propane transport fleet operated by Coast Energy Group (CEG), a division of Cornerstone Propane

PETERBILT conventionals give a distinctive look to the propane transport fleet operated by Coast Energy Group (CEG), a division of Cornerstone Propane LP. The tractors also are an important part of the company's driver retention effort.

CEG's logistics services activities are directed from a main office in Bakersfield, California, and include running 36 propane transports. Management has a growth-oriented focus, and the division plans to add a minimum of two to five units a year for the foreseeable future.

"We are looking at a variety of growth opportunities, and we are predicting a 3% to 5% annual growth rate," says Vincent J Di Cosimo, president of Coast Energy Group. "Our desire is to locate several customers who would like to outsource their private fleet operations. We could easily double our fleet overnight with some of these deals.

"We are looking at various diversification opportunities, including a broader range of cargoes and transloading. However, we don't want to grow just for the sake of being large. Profitability comes first."

The logistics services operation is barely a year old and was formed from the combined transport assets of three large propane marketers-Coast Gas, Empire Gas, and Synergy Gas. The marketers were acquired over the past two years by Cornerstone Propane Partners, the parent company of Coast Energy Group.

The partnership operates an extensive storage and distribution network that makes use of pipelines and rail tankcars, in addition to truck transports. Coast Energy Group moves more than 250 million gallons of wholesale propane annually.

Ranked as the fifth-largest propane marketer in the United States, Cornerstone Propane serves more than 360,000 customers from 312 retail service centers in 26 states. Over 900 bobtails are used to deliver propane locally to Cornerstone customers.

"This operation is very young, and we're still putting the pieces together," Di Cosimo says. "Prior to the merger, each marketer had its own private transport fleet. None of them did any for-hire carriage. With the creation of the Logistics Services division, we're taking the transport activities in completely new directions.

"We want to develop a broader range of transloading activities to keep our rail-accessed facilities busy year-round. We're looking at products with a short truck haul, including lubricants, antifreeze, and plastics. We can build virtually anything a customer might want."

Propane Focus Propane seems likely to remain the primary cargo for the Coast Energy Group, though. The Cornerstone Propane marketing units have to arrange transportation of bulk shipments through CEG.

"It's a captive market, but we still have to provide competitive pricing," says Randy Fordham, CEG director of transportation. "We do what is necessary to meet their transportation needs at the best cost.

"Coast Energy's objective is to have a central logistics focus. They want just one office handling all transport arrangements."

CEG's 36 propane transports are dispersed among locations in Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Maryland, Missouri, Nevada, and Oklahoma. The largest terminals are in Bakersfield; Baltimore, Maryland; Reno, Nevada; and Medley, Florida. Additionally, individual rigs are based in a number of locations.

Small Groups Except for Bakersfield, no location has more than five transports. For instance, four transports operate out of the terminal in Anchorage, Alaska. "With Alaska's weather conditions, Anchorage is one of our more challenging locations," Fordham says. "A part of Coast Gas in the past, the operation there has good growth potential."

All dispatching is handled out of the Bakersfield main office. Activity is heaviest from October to February, when the division handles as many as 2,100 loads a month. Trips are usually 200 miles or less.

Besides dispatching, a five-person staff at the main office handles all administrative duties, including driver hiring and training. Fordham points out that the administrative staff size remained constant throughout the process of merging the transport operations from the three propane marketing organizations. Employment growth has been in the field.

Drivers are being hired to keep pace with fleet expansion. Like many other tank fleet operators, the division is having some difficulties finding an adequate number of applicants for truck driving positions.

"We have a strict driver policy," Fordham says. "We are looking for truck drivers with a professional attitude and considerable over-the-road experience. Quite a few of our applicants have tank experience, and we verify all such work-background details.

"We don't transfer drivers in from the propane marketing operations, because the work requirements are completely different from ours. We don't recruit truck drivers fresh out of the driving schools because they are too inexperienced."

Pay Raises Raising driver pay in some parts of the country has helped attract new drivers, as well as retain those already working for the company.

To be hired by CEG, an applicant must successfully pass two interviews. "We look for people who can make a positive impression for our operation," Fordham says.

CEG's logistics operation advertises for drivers who are at least 25 years old and have a minimum of three years of over-the-road experience. Drivers must have a high school diploma or equivalent and a commercial driver license with endorsements for tank, hazardous materials, doubles, and air brakes.

In most cases, applicants will be rejected if their driving records show moving violations or chargeable accidents. A conviction for driving under the influence is an automatic disqualification.

Newly hired drivers receive on-the-job training for about two weeks. They learn about CEG's transport procedures, customer requirements, and vehicle characteristics. "We don't teach them how to drive; we just show them how to do things our way," Fordham says.

Training is reinforced through monthly safety meetings at the maintenance shops in Bakersfield and Tulsa. Topics covered at the meetings include recent accidents and incidents, emergency shutoff procedures, mountain grades, and first aid.

Tractor Assignments Drivers in the division are permanently assigned to a power unit. In many cases, they also work with the same tank trailer day in and day out, because the division runs very close to a 1:1 ratio.

The age of the power units in the fleet is dropping as older vehicles are replaced. The company is standardizing on black Peterbilt 378 conventionals.

While the logistics operation doesn't buy an owner-operator-level truck, the Peterbilts are specified for driver image and comfort. Chromed hardware accents the black Imron finish. Inside the cab is the Classic III interior with rubber mats onthe floor.

The driver's seat is a Bostrom Talladega high-back, air-ride seat with fabric upholstery and a three-point seat belt. The tractors also have air-conditioning, Moto-Mirror powered side mirrors, adjustable steering wheel, and a full gauge package on the dash.

Tractors arrive prewired for a number of add-ons, including CB radio, cellular telephone, on-board computer, and satellite communications system. "Currently, we're putting Rockwell Tripmaster units in our tractors and trucks," Fordham says. "We use vehicle operating data gathered by the computer to calculate payroll and driver incentives."

Tractors are specified with sleepers, while trucks have daycabs. CEG is specifying the Unibilt 63-inch sleeper on Peterbilt tractors.

Caterpillar Engines The new Peterbilts are powered by Caterpillar C12 engines rated at 380/425 horsepower. "We're impressed with the technology that is being designed into the products," Fordham says. "We've also received a good extended warranty, and Cat provided training for our mechanics. Their people are great to work with.

"We're on Cat's Truck Owner Protection (TOP) plan, which ensures fixed maintenance costs. It's ideal for the trucks that are in areas where we don't have a shop of our own."

The fleet chose the Fuller Super 10 transmission for the newest vehicles. Other drivetrain components include a Spicer 15 1/2-inch ceramic clutch, Spicer 1810 driveline, and Eaton DS404 drive tandem.

The Amot engine shutdown system is standard on all of the Logistics Division's power units. The system activates in the event of engine runaway caused by high levels of combustible vapors at a loading or unloading site. A Flaming River kill switch is positioned next to the battery box on the driver side for emergency shutdown of the electrical system.

New tractors have a 110-gallon aluminum fuel tank on the passenger side and a 100-gallon tank on the driver side. Other components include a Delco alternator and starter, Horton fan clutch, Bendix 16.5-cfm air compressor, Jacobs engine brake, Con-Met fuel/water separator, silicone radiator hoses, Donaldson air cleaner, and Rockwell WABCO System Saver 1200 air dryer with heater.

Tractors are specified with Rockwell WABCO four-channel antilock braking and Peterbilt's Air Trac air suspension rated for 40,000 pounds. Other running gear includes Meritor Q-Plus S-cam brakes, MGM spring brakes, Haldex automatic slack adjusters, aluminum hubs and disc wheels, and Bridgestone steel-belted radial tires.

Mississippi Tank The newest propane trailers in the fleet were built by Mississippi Tank Company. The MC331 pressure vessels comply with the current require-ments of HM-225, a Federal interim final rule that took effect August 16. Under the rule, new pressure vessel cargo tanks built before March 1, 1999, must be marked and certified as conforming to MC331 code if they meet all requirements of the current specification.

The interim final rule was prompted by concerns at the Research and Special Programs Administration (RSPA) that the emergency shutdown devices do not function as mandated. RSPA has called for a major redesign effort, even though very few accidental product releases have been tied to malfunctioning or inoperable emergency shutdown devices.

"We're concerned right now because manufacturers are telling us that there is no technology available that would enable us to meet RSPA's proposed requirements," Fordham says. "The current internal valve is designed to prevent product release in the event that the piping is sheared in an accident.

"Differential pressure actuation is a different issue. RSPA hasn't yet defined a performance level. The officials there just say they want a totally fail-proof passive system. They want industry to pull a solution out of the air. I hope we aren't moving toward the same sort of situation we had when RSPA mandated the smart vent for DOT407 tanks."

MC331 semitrailers added recently have an 11,600-gallon capacity. They are constructed of SA517 steel with a minimum tensile strength of 115,000 psi. Internal baffles are fabricated from heavy-duty aluminum.

Fisher supplies the internal valves. Product transfer equipment includes a hydraulically powered Blackmer pump with a bypass arrangement that enables loading and unloading from either side of the trailer.

Running gear includes five-inch round axles with a Hendrickson Intraax air suspension. Among other components are outboard-mounted drums, automatic slack adjusters, aluminum disc wheels, and Michelin low-profile radial tires.

Vehicle Service Pressure vessels last virtually forever if they receive regular maintenance. Tractors are replaced on a five-year schedule.

Fleet maintenance is handled at three of CEG's 10 shops. All of the shops have CT numbers, which enables them to test and inspect the tanks. Vessel repair work is contracted out.

A key objective of the maintenance operation is to ensure that vehicles in the fleet always look their best. Lately, the shops have been busy refurbishing and repainting many of the tanks in the Logistics Services division fleet.