Westward ho

Sept. 1, 2006
Bess Tank Lines operates about 30 tank trailers and 10 tractors in the Calgary division while the headquarters in Quebec has about 140 trailers and 90 power units.

GO WEST young man once again has proven to be good advice — this time in Canada and to Ben Rouillard, operations manager of the Calgary division of Bess Tank Lines Ltd.

Ben took the advice from his father, Jean Rouillard, founder of Bess Tank Lines who runs the foodgrade transportation company from its headquarters in Sherbrooke, Quebec. He began the business with two tractors and two tank trailers.

Today, Bess Tank Lines operates about 30 tank trailers and 10 tractors in the Calgary division while the headquarters in Quebec has about 140 trailers and 90 power units. Terminals in Quebec include Windsor, St-Hyacinthe, and Compton, all near Montreal. The founder's other son, Sylvin, also is active in company management on Canada's East Coast.

After an Alberta customer made a request for service, the family decided to open the Calgary division in 1999 and selected Ben to move there to lead the new effort, even though at the time the French-speaking young man had little English skill. “I soon learned,” he adds, smiling. “We wanted to build a level of satisfaction and confidence with customers as we had done in Quebec, so it was important for me to be able to communicate as quickly as possible. Our business was growing in this part of Canada, and we were searching for ways to serve our customers better and eliminate backhauls.”

The carrier leased terminal space from a dry freight company and three years later bought property that contained offices, as well as maintenance and tank cleaning facilities. Today, the western division primarily operates in a special niche by hauling plasma, an animal byproduct used to enhance protein in feed. “Plasma is about 75% of our business and is dedicated to one company,” says Ben.

Eight Tremcar B-trains are dedicated to the plasma business. Bess Tank Lines also runs a few Tremcar 41,000-liter (10,831-gallon) single compartment trailers for this service.

The newest stainless steel single compartment B-trains are insulated and have capacities of 20,500 liters (about 5,415 US gallons). The lead units measures 39 feet, nine inches while the rear units are 31 feet.

Components include Betts valves and Ecolab clean-in-place systems. Running gear includes Ridewell suspensions, Meritor axles, MeritorWabco anti-locking brake systems, Truck-Lite lighting systems, Jost landing gear, and Holland fifthwheels. Bess Tank Lines specifies Goodyear product hoses.

The B-trains typically operate within Alberta while the other trailers are used to transport product in Manitoba and British Columbia.

“Juices and oils make up most of the remaining 25% of our business, but we also transport some alcohol used by bourbon distilleries,” says Ben. “We have three single-compartment trailers dedicated to the alcohol, which are our only hazmat trailers. Trailers hauling the alcohol also have 25,000 liter capacities.”

The Calgary fleet also includes eight 25,000-liter (6,604-US gallon) tankers used for juices and other edible products. They are used to pick up product in the United States and haul it into Canada, such as juice for Canadian processors.

Suppliers of the single compartment tank trailers, in addition to Tremcar, include Polar Tank Corp and Brenner Tank Inc. Equipment typically includes Betts valves, Fort Vale domelids, and Girard pressure-relief vents (for the dedicated alcohol trailers). Bess typically doesn't specify on-board pumps since product handling is through customers' pumps, but a few trailers used for canola oil and juice have PTO-driven Ibex pumps.

Driver force

Ten drivers handle the trailers with International, Freightliner, and Mack tractors. Driver retention has been steady. On occasion, drivers from the eastern divisions travel to Calgary to fill in.

“Most of our drivers here in western Canada live in Calgary,” says Ben. “When they begin their routes, they check in at the office and stay in touch with the dispatcher with Sanyo cell phones that we provide.”

He points out that the majority of the operation is a just-in-time service that will be more complicated if Canada adopts hours-of-service rules similar to those currently in place in the United States.

“Our drivers will have to stop more often,” he says. “That means they will be losing money because their pay is based on mileage. We would have to hire additional drivers to meet our obligations, and that is hard because we have to find those who are capable of very specialized product handling.”

With Calgary's unemployment rate hovering at less than 4%, carriers are faced with a diminishing available driver workforce. “One problem we have here in Calgary is the competition from the oil industry where workers can earn double the money we can pay,” says Ben.

When new hires are on board, Grant Hofer, with assistance from Kelley Sallenbach, oversee their coordination, including dispatching and training. All Bess Tank Lines drivers must qualify for the US Free and Secure Trade (FAST) commercial driver program that expedites border crossings.

In addition to typical driver training, such as company policies and Canadian regulations, the program emphasizes driving skills needed to provide a smooth ride for the plasma that contains cells sensitive to bumping and jarring. Drivers also must meet sanitary standards when loading, unloading, and testing the product.

Tank cleaning

Sanitary requirements call for trailers to be washed after every unloading, which prompted the wash bay at the Calgary terminal. “We have a kosher-approved process that each of our foodgrade trailers is put through before it leaves to pick up a load,” says Ben.

The wash bay is equipped with Chemdet's Fury 600 spinner and Impact pumps. Two 500-gallon vats, one for wash and one for rinse, are used to hold water for the cleaning cycles. Water is introduced at 125° F for 30 minutes, foodgrade caustic at 185° to 200° for 60 minutes, and rinse water at 185° to 200° for 10 minutes. Tanks are allowed to dry for about 30 minutes. A Bryan Steam LLC boiler with Honeywell controller provides steam. Wastewater from the cleaning operations requires minimal treatment. It is captured and pumped into a holding tank where pH is adjusted before it is released into the local sewer.

Adjacent to the wash rack are two maintenance bays for full service maintenance and repairs on tractors and trailers. Kevin Jones, head mechanic, directs shop operations that handles all inspections and conducts all trailer repairs with the exception of vessel welding.

Ben says he expects the maintenance operation to become even busier as the carrier expands the fleet to meet customer demand for additional services — and as opportunities for diversification occur. Clearly the advice from his father in 1999 to go west has paid off for Bess Tank Lines.

About the Author

Mary Davis