Premium Service Attracts and Holds Customers for Harris Transportation

Nov. 1, 1997
BRIAN C HARRIS can empathize with petroleum jobbers who are inundated with complaints from their customers because of late deliveries, old truck-trailer

BRIAN C HARRIS can empathize with petroleum jobbers who are inundated with complaints from their customers because of late deliveries, old truck-trailer units, and unprofessional-looking drivers. It happened to him plenty of times before he got into the for-hire carrier business in 1990.

"After 60 years in petroleum marketing, our company was a well-known name in Oregon and the Northwest market," says Harris, who is vice-president of Harris Transportation Company in Portland, Oregon. "But our experience with different carriers wasn't very encouraging. We never could find the level of outside transportation service we wanted.

"Dealers at retail stations complained to us about late deliveries, the poor condition of the equipment, and the less-than-professional appearance of the drivers. If we couldn't find good service, we figured others couldn't either. So we decided to do it ourselves."

Starting with three trucks and one customer, Harris Transportation now has 23 truck and trailer combinations that service more than 200 customer locations in Oregon and Washington. All of the power units are Freightliners, and the tank trailers are manufactured by Beall Trailers of Oregon Inc.

"Harris Transportation is no longer a petroleum marketer," Harris says. "Once the decision was made to become a carrier, we began focusing only on transportation. Trying to wear two hats breaks down your focus and decreases the efficiency of your business."

Premium Image Projecting a premium image has enabled Harris Transportation to compete more effectively as a for-hire petroleum carrier. Image factors include late-model company tractors, spotless tank trailers, and uniformed drivers.

"When we pull in at a delivery location, our customers can see that we have excellent equipment and uniformed, professional drivers," Harris says. "We leave no doubt that quality and service are our top priorities.

"Image is very important to us, and we want to present a uniform appearance. The better we look, the better our customers look. Major oil companies expect their carriers to present a premium appearance during deliveries at their stations."

Harris Transportation is a subsidiary of Harris Enterprises Inc. Founded as Harris Oil Company in 1929, the family-run business has established roots at the community level and participates in regional petroleum industry organizations. Harris also is known nationwide, with past corporate officers holding positions in industry trade organizations such as the Petroleum Marketing Association of America and the Pacific Oil Conference.

Harris Transportation hauls a wide variety of petroleum products to retail service stations, cardlocks, and numerous commercial, industrial, and government accounts. Products include gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, heating oil, lube oil, and ethanol.

The carrier operates out of four terminals in Oregon and Washington. About half of the fleet is based in Portland. The remainder is divided evenly among Eugene, Oregon; and Seattle and Spokane, Washington.

Round-the-clock operations are the key to success, Harris says. Management works closely with petroleum customers to negotiate flexible delivery schedules. As part of the arrangement, Harris Transportation may take responsibility for maintaining inventory levels at customer locations.

Loads are assigned by the central dispatch office in Portland. As part of their scheduling responsibilities, dispatchers manage a keep-full program. They read inventory levels at retail service stations twice a day using a computer modem that connects to a Veeder-Root tank probe.

"The program increases the utilization of our equipment," Harris says. "It also provides our customers with the assurance that they won't run out of product."

Seven-Days-a-Week Operations Trips tend to be relatively short, although the company does have some longhaul activity. Two driving shifts keep the Harris Transportation fleet rolling 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In 1996, Harris Transportation had the opportunity to demonstrate its ability when a pipeline between Missoula, Montana, and Spokane, Washington, shut down for 10 months.

Exxon contracted for the carrier to begin hauling gasoline from Missoula to Spokane during the middle of winter. In order to handle the volume, Harris selected three of its newest truck-and-trailer combinations for the 24-hour, seven-days-a-week marathon.

Each truck made two trips every 24 hours. When a driver reached Spokane, he called the next driver before unloading product and refueling the tractor so that there was no delay between work shifts.

Depending on weather and road conditions, each trip took 10 to 14 hours, which included crossing two mountain passes. A one-way trip often required the use of tire chains several times because of snow on the highway. Ten drivers worked a five-day-a-week schedule with two days off.

During the 10-month project, drivers dropped off their trucks every 10,000 miles at the Freightliner dealer in Spokane for preventive maintenance. A Freightliner dealer in Missoula was available for emergency repairs.

Freightliner Fleet Every three to five weeks, mechanics at Freightliner Portland perform a full preventive maintenance routine on Harris Transportation's entire fleet. The carrier is the dealer's single largest service customer.

"Freightliner always has provided us with excellent service," says Ray Baldwin, general manager. "With access to a vendor's well-staffed maintenance shop that operates 24 hours a day, we don't have the additional cost of mechanics, parts inventory, and repair bays. That's one of the reasons our entire fleet is Freightliner."

The carrier recently added four 1997 Freightliner Century Class trucks to its fleet. Harris Transportation says it is the first company in the Northwest United States to use Century Class trucks in a tankwagon application.

The Century Class truck is built with a noticeable hood slope and backward-angled windshield to enhance aerodynamic efficiency. The new shape, coupled with improvements in airflow around the engine, is said to improve fuel economy compared with other Freightliner trucks.

New power units come with a three-year or 350,000-mile warranty. Harris replaces tractors with newer models after about 700,000 miles or six years of service.

Two of the Freightliner C120 conventionals are equipped with Cummins N14 in-line six-cylinder engines rated for 460 horsepower and delivering 1,650 ft-lb of torque at 1200 rpm. Detroit Diesel Series 60 engines power the other two trucks.

Other drivetrain components include a 10-speed Fuller RTO-16210C transmission. Rockwell equipment includes a 15.5-inch ceramic clutch, WABCO antilock braking system, automatic slack adjusters, and tandem-drive axles with a 3.90 ratio.

Each tractor is equipped with a Watson & Chalin WCAL-1100 lift axle, Centrifuse brake drums, Horton fan clutch, Con Met aluminum hubs, Alcoa aluminum wheels, and Michelin 275/80R22.5 14-ply tires.

Because of the number of axles and lift axles, Freightliner mechanics check air brake chambers and air supply lines closely for leaks. Tires are checked for abnormal wear and correct air pressure.

"Tires and brakes can wear out quickly because of turning, stopping, and starting associated with gasoline station deliveries," Baldwin says. "Proper maintenance and specification of equipment reduces the frequency of brake problems. For example, we specify metal S-cam bushings because they last three times longer than nylon. The thickness of brake lining is measured during every inspection."

Trucks are equipped with Nextel two-way radios that keep drivers in constant touch with the dispatch office. Most orders are for next-day delivery, but Harris accommodates shorter lead times on a space-available basis. Radio dispatch makes it easier to react to those last-minute orders.

Trailers All truck-mounted tanks and tank trailers were manufactured by Beall Trailers of Oregon Inc. The truck-and-trailer combinations can haul up to 11,200 gallons of petroleum product. Maximum gross combination weight is 105,500 pounds in Oregon.

The 5,300-gallon truck tanks and 7,400-gallon pull trailers are built of aluminum to DOT406 code. Tank hardware includes Knappco domelids, Knappco emergency internal valves, Betts butterfly valves on discharge lines and pump lines, and Civacon vapor vents.

Harris Transportation specifies Civacon overfill protection systems and a Civacon brake interlock that is tied into the bottom-loading system. Trucks are equipped with Blackmer pumps. Controls for the Muncie Hot Shift PTO are mounted curbside under the hose tubes.

The newest pull trailers have Rockwell WABCO antilock braking, Delco composite fiberglass springs, Ingersoll axles, Con Met aluminum hubs, Haldex automatic slack adjusters, Centrifuse brake drums, and Eaton Extended Service brake shoes.

Safety First Avoiding transportation-related accidents and injuries is just as important as running late-model equipment at Harris Transportation. The company has built a proactive safety program that is achieving considerable success. The company hasn't had any reportable accidents in the past three years.

Harris Transportation's front line of defense against accidents is its professional drivers, some of them with more than 17 years of experience. Many of the drivers haul petroleum products to customers in high-traffic areas. Drivers are paid by the hour as an incentive to never rush a delivery. They also receive an additional $1 per hour for completing the job safely.

"It's worth the extra money to offer drivers an additional incentive not to speed," Harris says. "Several times we've thought about changing the pay structure, but have resisted the temptation."

An annual safety awards banquet and cash bonuses based on the number of years without accidents help keep drivers focused on safety. Depending on length of service, drivers can earn an annual bonus of $2,000. When replacement drivers are needed, Harris Transportation looks for experienced professionals. Three to five years' experience is a minimum requirement. Attitude plays a key role in the selection process. The company looks for applicants who enjoy driving a truck. A clean driving record is a requirement, and anyone with a conviction for driving-under-the-influence is disqualified.

>From the very start, the company emphasizes safety to new drivers during classroom instruction on the transportation of hazardous materials. New drivers also receive on-the-job training with senior drivers before they are assigned to a truck. New drivers initially are assigned to the evening shift.

The driver training program helps ensure that Harris Transportation continues to meetcustomer needs for timely deliveries in the safest manner possible. It's a strategy the company practices every day.