JJ Williams Takes Pride in Fleet--Company Growth Reflects Vehicle Priorities

Nov. 1, 1999
Managers at James J Williams (JJW), a subsidiary of Trans-Systems Inc, of Spokane, Washington, speak about the company's fleet with great pride - and

Managers at James J Williams (JJW), a subsidiary of Trans-Systems Inc, of Spokane, Washington, speak about the company's fleet with great pride - and with reason. Having top-of-the-line vehicles has been a major contributor toward the success of the company and its $7.5 million annual revenue of today.

The tank truck carrier hauls chemicals, dry and liquid fertilizer, petroleum products, asphalt, and food products, such as flour and baking soda, for customers throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Eliciting pride are the 17 Peterbilt and 12 Freightliner tractors purchased recently. Company growth dictates on-going purchases and vehicle upgrading. Twenty-nine tractors were bought in the last two years for partial replacement and to fuel expansion.

"We specify Caterpillar 410-horsepower engines with Eaton 10-speed transmissions," says Duane Johnsen, operations director.

Innovative Move In an innovative move, JJW managers took a look at the difficulties installing tractor mounted blowers. To overcome these difficulties, they specified the new tractors with the air tanks on the outside of the frames. This left room on the inside of the frames to mount the blowers.

"This saves us at least three days when we install blowers," Johnsen points out. Solving maintenance problems is only one way managers strive for efficiency. Maximum payload is always at the top of the priority list. To meet the challenge, the company specifies dual-drive axles with lifting tag axles for its newest tractors. For more weight reduction, the carrier specifies Alcoa aluminum wheels.

Product pumps are mounted on the tractors and are PTO- driven.

Tractors aren't the only source of pride for the company. Johnsen points to the two new 8,000-gallon DOT407 four-axle trailers supplied by Beall Corporation that are being added to the fleet. The recent tank trailer purchases are part of plans underway to expand service to chemical companies throughout the Northwest, particularly for supplying product to pulp and paper mills.

JJW has 30 tank trailers for chemicals, 26 for asphalt, six for flour, four for liquid fertilizer, three for petroleum, and two anhydrous ammonia trailers converted recently for propane. The company uses 16 bottom semi- and pup dump trailers for dry fertilizer.

Among the manufacturers providing vehicles for the fleet are Brenner Tank Inc, J&L Tank Inc, Western Trailer Sales, and Beall Tank Corp. Adding the 84 trailers to the count of50 tractors and the fleet totals 134 vehicles that are operated in the company's service area.

Service Area JJW serves customers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and along the Canadian border. Occasionally, loads are hauled coast to coast.

In addition to other chemicals, fertilizer has been a company mainstay. It is delivered to agricultural areas in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana, says Johnsen. Some dry fertilizer comes into the JJW transfer yard at the company's Spokane terminal via truck from a plant at Trail, British Columbia, Canada, and is transloaded to rail. Baking soda arrives at the transload facility via rail and is transloaded to truck for customer delivery.

The company's asphalt business has grown in tandem with the local construction business, boosted by a strong national economy. The asphalt tank trailer fleet increased from 12 vehicles to 28 in the last three years. JJW has been designated a house carrier for Koch Industries, which recently acquired an asphalt plant adjacent to the JJW terminal in Spokane.

To add propane to its expanding services, the company converted two MC331 anhydrous ammonia trailers to propane just this year in a move for additional diversification and growth. A new three-axle 13,000-gallon Kleespie propane trailer also is on order.

The company's growth has been long and sustained, beginning in 1938 when it was founded by the grandfather of the current owner, James (Jim) C Williams. However, the grandfather, James J Williams, sold the company in 1960 and it was operated by other owners until the grandson purchased the company in 1996. Jim founded Trans-System Inc in 1972. With $85 million in annual revenue, the parent company operates 250 refrigerated and 600 flatbed trailers.

Jim's grandfather supplied petroleum products to the agricultural areas of central Washington, picking up product in Seattle. Later, service was expanded to liquid and dry fertilizer. Eventually, flour, asphalt, and chemicals were added. Under Jim's direction, JJW has continued its growth.

"We've built the business at a growth rate of about 10% for each of the last two years," says Johnsen.

Today's operation runs seven days a week around the clock with dispatchers coordinating deliveries from terminals in Spokane, Pasco, and Kalama.

Drivers are recruited to work at both JJW and its parent company, with all drivers holding a commercial driver license with a tank and hazardous materials endorsement. An active driver recruitment program includes advertising in trade magazines, newspapers, and on radio and television.

Johnsen believes driver retention is successful because drivers are carefully selected and undergo rigorous training. In addition, 95% of the approximately 65 company drivers cover local territory and are not required to make long-distance trips that keep them away from home.

Training includes a three-day orientation at the corporate offices where Department of Transportation regulations, defensive driving, and com- pany policies are emphasized, says Jeff Benesch, director of personnel. Another two days are devoted to training for hazardous materials handling. After classroom training is completed, new drivers undergo two to four weeks of on-the-road instruction under the direction of veteran drivers.

Drivers are rewarded for safe driving records. Those who qualify receive as much as $1,000 annually. The company offers profit sharing and retirement savings programs. "We look at these incentives as an industry-leading program," says Benesch.

Keeping safe and satisfied drivers on the road is directly related to well-maintained vehicles. JJW schedules service at its three-bay Spokane shop that has a cargo tank (CT) number for federally required tank inspections. Tractors are checked every 6,000 miles, and engine oil is changed every 20,000 miles. Tank trailers receive routine maintenance and repairs at the shop with only vessel repair assigned to outside vendors.

With vehicle maintenance and upgrading having such a high priority at JJW, it's not surprising that the company grew significantly since its purchase in 1996. Three years of dedication to fleet pride has paid off for the Spokane carrier and provides the necessary foundation for future success. o