For years, agricultural hauling was a mainstay for BJJ Company Inc, a trucking company that has been operating in California for over 50 years. The agricultural focus changed abruptly two years ago, and equipment used in that operation was parked awaiting sale.
Almost overnight, the Stockton-based carrier shifted its emphasis from the farm fields of the San Joaquin Valley to liquid and dry bulk edibles. Liquid sweeteners, spring water, salt, and corn starch are among the products that now keep the fleet rolling. "Six years ago, 60 to 70% of our business came from ag hauling, such as transporting fresh-harvested tomatoes from the fields to the packing sheds," says Michael Coyner, BJJ vice-president of sales and traffic. "Bulk edibles were a much smaller part of our business.
"We had to change our focus. Rates for ag hauling hadn't changed in 10 years. The business was too seasonal, and we were beginning to have difficulties attracting drivers. In addition, the economy in the Stockton area was moving away from a seasonal focus. New food processing factories that have come in want to run year-around.
"We're seeing good, steady growth from our current customer base. We've also grown through some acquisitions. Sweetener producers provide a significant percentage of our business, but we are also pursuing growth opportunities in other areas."
BJJ was established 55 years ago by F E Blincoe Jr, chairman. "As a small carrier, we have to remain flexible and innovative to meet our customers' needs," he says. "We listen to them and try to solve their problems as quickly as possible. We are looking forward to a bright future."
Blincoe's son James is president. "My dad started a tradition of honesty and fair play that remains in place today," James says. "Our hopes are that this company will continue for another 50 years with a third generation."
Sweetener Customers BJJ serves most of the sweetener processors that have operations in California. The tank truck company has been the house carrier for the Corn Products Company plant in Stockton since it began operations 17 years ago.
The BJJ fleet now stands at 85 tractors and close to 100 trailers. The vehicles are divided among the headquarters terminal in Stockton and a smaller facility in Los Angeles. Vehicles are dispatched by the terminal to which they are assigned.
BJJ serves customers in 11 western states, running as far east as Utah. However, 80% of the carrier's business is done in the area between Fresno and the San Francisco Bay Area. Most activity is within a 120- to 150-mile radius of the Stockton headquarters. Only about 5% of the loads are carried 400 miles or more.
Total mileage last year for the 85-tractor fleet was 4.6 million miles. Tractors average 75,000 miles a year, and that's even with two loads a day for many drivers. "Edibles hauling is basically shorthaul," Coyner says.
Short trips combined with a good repeater station network in California make it possible for dispatchers to stay in touch with drivers most of the time using Motorola two-way radios. Cellular telephones are carried in the tractors when loads are hauled outside California.
Driver Team Currently, about 90 truck drivers are on the BJJ payroll. The carrier has been able to hire enough drivers to keep up with growth so far, but the truck driver shortage is readily apparent.
"We have been fortunate to find good drivers who are tired of working in longhaul dry freight operations," Coyner says. "However, we're facing a real shortage of truck drivers in this area. Many of the people we would have hired in the past have gone to work for the warehouse operations that have come into the Stockton area in large numbers."
Despite the shortages, driver hiring standards have remained high. Attitude is a key factor. "We don't hire anyone under 25 years old, and we look for people who show traits for responsibility and dependability," Coyner says.
Drivers are required to wear uniforms and must comply with grooming requirements. At the time of hiring, each driver receives five uniform sets. Drivers are responsible for laundering the uniforms, but replacements are provided by BJJ as needed. Steel-toed shoes are encouraged but not required.
"We believe the uniforms are important because they make our drivers look professional," Coyner says. "We're transporting food, and image is something that is important to our customers."
Safety Emphasis Safety receives even more emphasis. Newly hired drivers receive a detailed orientation into safe and proper equipment operation. Formal safety meetings are held twice a year, but drivers receive one-on-one instruction as needed.
Safety is promoted through an award program. Drivers earn jackets and a variety of other incentives for accident- and incident-free driving. After five years with no preventable accidents, drivers qualify for a three-day expenses-paid vacation trip for two.
Well-maintained, late-model tractors also reinforce the safety focus. Day-cab conventionals predominate in the fleet and are used for short and medium haul operations. Cabover tractors with sleepers are assigned to longhaul runs.
Tractor Fleet BJJ buys Freightliner and Mack conventionals and Freightliner cabovers. "Our objective is to keep the tare weight under 14,000 pounds, and that includes tire chains during the winter," says Nick Kosta, BJJ vice-president. "The weight of a cabover with a sleeper is about the same as one without. Conventionals with sleepers typically are over 15,000 pounds."
The newest tractors were specified with Caterpillar C12 engines rated for 355/410 horsepower at 1800 rpm. Drivetrain components include seven-speed Fuller transmissions and Meritor tandem-drive axles.
Driver comfort enhancements include air-conditioning, AM-FM stereo radios, air-ride seats, air suspensions, and Link Cabmate cab suspensions. Tractors also have Fontaine fifthwheels, aluminum disc wheels, and Michelin steel-belted radial tires.
Product-handling systems are mounted on the tractors, as well as some trailers. BJJ uses hydraulically powered Ibex and Roper pumps for liquid cargoes and Gardner Denver blowers for dry bulk operations. The pumps are hydraulically powered and are specified with Drum Hydrapak and Roper RoPak hydraulic oil coolers.
Semitrailer Preference While truck-and-trailer combinations and doubles trains are popular in California in many applications, BJJ has standardized on semitrailers. "They simply work best in our operation," Kosta says.
Tanks predominate in the trailer fleet, but the carrier also runs dry bulkers. Beall Trailer Inc and Polar Tank Trailer Inc are the primary suppliers of tank trailers. Beall also has built most of the BJJ dry bulk trailers.
The typical liquid edibles tank in the fleet has a 5,500-gallon capacity. BJJ runs both insulated and uninsulated tanks, all of which are constructed of stainless steel. Straight barrel and double-conical tanks are used in the fleet.
Hardware includes Betts discharge valves and domelids, Girard vacuum breakers, and Consler Corp breather units. Expanded metal work platforms completely surround the domelid and extend about four feet to the front and rear to cleanout caps. Tank trailers have two cleanouts.
Trailers usually carry 60 feet of three-inch hose and 20 feet of four-inch hose. Suppliers include Gates, Goodyear, and Thermoid. The newest hoses have PT couplings and crimped ferrule fittings that are designed to prevent ejection or blowoff.
Decals on the trailers show black letters in daylight. However, they are reflective and shine silver at night when illuminated by the headlights of other vehicles.
Dry Bulk Units Dry bulk trailers are used for products such as corn starch and salt. Aluminum bulkers handle corn starch and other non-corrosive products, but salt is transported in dedicated stainless steel trailers.
New aluminum dry bulkers are specified in a vacuum/pneumatic configuration. The most recent additions to the BJJ fleet have an 1,800-cu-ft capacity. Hardware includes Bayco check valves, Beall domelids, Victaulic pipe couplings, and Polar butterfly valves. Among running gear components are Ingersoll inverted axles and Hutch spring suspensions.
Most of the dry bulkers in salt service were purchased used, but BJJ recently added a 1,200-cu-ft stainless steel Retesa unit purchased from Southwestern Pneumatic Inc. The trailer is dedicated to medical grade salt.
Maintenance and Cleaning A comprehensive in-house maintenance program keeps the fleet in top operating shape. Mechanics perform a wide range of services from preventive maintenance to major wreck rebuild. Non-code tank repairs are made in the trailer shop.
Appearance is a major concern, and most vehicle cleaning is done in-house. BJJ has an automated exterior wash at the Stockton terminal. The single-bay system was designed and built by the company mechanics.
Tank cleaning is handled in a three-bay wash rack at the Stockton terminal. Designed in-house, the wash rack is open about 20 hours a day during the work week and cleans up to 45 trailers a day. Gamma Jet spinners are used for most of the cleaning duties. Steam is provided by 50- and 75-hp boilers.
Wastewater from the interior and exterior cleaning operations receives minimal treatment before being discharged into the city sewer. Treatment focuses on adjusting BOD (biological oxygen demand) and pH.
With its diverse capabilities, BJJ can meet virtually any customer's bulk hauling needs.