Bulktransporter 641 Coover

Coover Trucking anticipating busy year hauling cement

Jan. 1, 2011
LAST YEAR was a reasonably good year for cement hauler Coover Trucking Inc despite generally flat construction activity due to the recession. Most importantly,

LAST YEAR was a reasonably good year for cement hauler Coover Trucking Inc despite generally flat construction activity due to the recession. Most importantly, 2011 looks to be even better.

Loads and miles traveled were up in 2010 for the Erie, Kansas-based carrier, and initial indications are that the fleet should continue running strong this year. A family-owned company, Coover Trucking serves customers with a fleet of 14 tractors and 14 dry bulk trailers.

“We saw a much better year in 2010 compared with a very slow 2009,” says Dave Coover, owner of Coover Trucking. “We hauled a lot more loads and miles traveled were up 10% to 15%. We expect 2011 to be relatively good. However, we still have a long way to go to get back to where we were in 2008, which was our best year.

“Our customers told us at the end of last year that they already had work going into 2011, which means loads for us. We believe we'll see enough increased business that we probably will have to add drivers. However, we don't plan to add any new equipment as of now.”

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Family company

Established in 1986, Coover Trucking has been hauling cement since 1990. From the very start, it was a family operation. Along with Dave, family members involved in the company include his wife Rosie (administrative duties) and cousin Mike (dispatcher). Dave and Mike also drive as needed.

“We started out hauling grain, but cement turned out to be a better fit for our company and our drivers,” Dave Coover says. “Our first cement customer was a ready-mix plant in Chanute (Kansas). Today, we handle just cement, fly ash, and occasionally calcium.”

Coover Trucking primarily hauls cement from plants in Chanute, Fredonia, and Humboldt in southeastern Kansas. The region has significant reserves of a particular limestone that is close to the surface and easily mined.

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“Cement has been produced in this area since the late 1800s, and five plants were operating here at one time,” Dave Coover says. “Today, just three plants remain — Monarch Cement Co (Humboldt), Ash Grove Cement Co (Chanute), and LaFarge (Fredonia). We haul for all three plants.

“We also handle some cement shipments from a transload site in Independence (Kansas). In past years, we transported a small amount of cement from plants in Kansas City (Kansas) and Tulsa (Oklahoma).”

Diverse customers

Cement shipments go to a very diverse range of customers, primarily within 200 miles of Humboldt. Ready-mix plants receive probably the largest percentage of the cement loads handled by Coover Trucking.

“Ready-mix is a big part of our volume,” Dave Coover says. “The cement we deliver to ready-mix plants goes into a wide variety of projects, including bridge and home construction, factories, wastewater treatment plants, and other construction activities.

“We also haul cement to companies that make pre-stressed bridge decks and bridge beams. Other customers make concrete vaults, piping, and concrete blocks. Many of these operations are able to run through the winter, which helps keep us busy throughout the year.

“Highway construction makes up a very small part of our business. We do some hauling for highway projects but primarily as a subcontractor or overflow carrier.”

Specialized projects

Over the years, Coover Trucking has been involved in a number of very specialized projects. During 2000 and 2001, the carrier stayed busy hauling cement to western Kansas for use in dairy farms and feedlots that were being relocated from other states.

The oilfield sector also has been a good source of business at times. “We haul to the oilfield service companies that are cementing wells,” Dave Coover says. “Most of our oilfield hauls have been in Kansas or neighboring states, but at one point we were running up into northeastern Wyoming.”

More recently, that carrier has benefited from the rush to erect wind farms on the Kansas prairie. One 250-ft-high wind turbine requires a base made of enough concrete to fill a 600-cu-yd to 700-cu-yd hole.

“Quite a few wind farm projects are underway across Kansas, and the closest one to us is about 80 miles away,” Dave Coover says. “It usually takes five to seven trailerloads of cement for each wind turbine base. One trailerload equals 100 yards of concrete.

“We expect to see a lot of windmill activity in the short term, but we believe it will peak fairly quickly. The biggest windmill limitation is a lack of transmission lines in the areas that work best for wind power. The infrastructure is very costly.”

Regional carrier

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Serving the variety of customers takes the Coover Trucking fleet across Kansas and into Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Arkansas. Drivers average two loads a day and usually are home at the end of the work day. Much of the driving time is spent on two-lane highways and roads.

“We do our best to keep our drivers busy,” Mike Coover says. “We generally have one driver per tractor, but several relief drivers are available, and we do some slipseating when we are very busy.

“We like the current driver hours of service, because they are a good fit for our operation. We run a 70-hour log, and the current 34-hour restart works great for us. We will be hurt by the hours-of-service changes that have been proposed by DOT (US Department of Transportation).”

Proposed changes include the following: A recommendation to reduce driving time to 10 hours, 13 hours of on-duty time within a 14- to 16-hour day, mandatory 30-minute rest breaks, and restarts could be extended to 48 hours for many driving operations.

Coover Trucking hires only experienced truck drivers. “Even with the recession, our biggest challenge today is finding good drivers,” Mike Coover says. “We have assembled a great core group of drivers, and we will hire someone who is the right fit for our operation even if we don't have an immediate need.”

Comfortable trucks

The carrier provides drivers with comfortable, well-maintained tractors. Coover Trucking has standardized on Paccar products, and the newest tractors in the fleet are Peterbilt Model 365s with 36-inch sleepers.

“Most of our trips are out and back, but there are times when drivers run out of hours or are out for more than a day,” Dave Coover says. “The small sleeper is ideal for those times.”

Weight is a critical concern for the cement hauler, and every effort is made to minimize tare weight. The target weight for a tractor is 14,500 pounds. “We have shaved weight wherever we can,” Dave Coover says.

Low tare weight is important because it means more payload can be hauled. For every additional 1,000 pounds of payload, Coover Trucking earns an additional five cents per mile. Since each tractor in the fleet runs about 100,000 miles a year, those nickels add up quickly.

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Lighter weight tractors added to the fleet over the past couple of years can scale a 55,000-lb payload, about 3,000 pounds more than a typical tractor-trailer rig, according to Dave Coover. That additional payload adds $15,000 to annual income for each lighter weight tractor.

The carrier has favored Peterbilt tractors since 2000, when Dave Coover found a used 1997 Model 385 with a dry weight of less than 14,900 pounds, more than 1,000 pounds less than the typical Peterbilt tractor on the market at the time. Most of the weight savings came from a small-block Caterpillar engine.

The tractor performed well, and Dave Coover says he considered this to be the perfect spec arrangement for his operation. However, when the 2002 Environmental Protection Agency diesel emission requirements took effect, the Caterpillar engine had gained more than 1,000 pounds.

The fleet turned to the Cummins ISM engine as an alternative, but Dave Coover had some concern about the reliability of the new engines. He wasn't sure of his company's ability to handle maintenance issues related to the new engine technology.

Vehicle reliability is critical because many Coover Trucking customers require just-in-time deliveries. The company can't afford delays due to maintenance issues.

Leased tractors

The engine concerns prompted a shift to leased tractors. After visiting with a PacLease representative at the 2007 Mid-America Trucking Show, Dave Coover decided to give full-service leasing a try. Today, eight of the 14 tractors in his fleet are under lease, and he says he plans to continue running a mix of leased and owned tractors.

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Full-service leasing makes sense for Coover Trucking because the lease cost is comparable to the cost of ownership, according to Dave Coover. Leasing also provides off-balance-sheet financing, which has given the fleet the ability to acquire other equipment important to growing the business.

“As a result of leasing trucks, I was able to approach our bank about borrowing money to buy dry bulk cement trailers, which we needed in order to haul more product and meet customer demand,” Dave Coover says. “If we had to buy those tractors instead of leasing them, it would have meant borrowing another $800,000 to $900,000. That's a lot of debt load for a small truck fleet. There's no question that the bank would have been reluctant to lend us the money for the trailers.”

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Dave Coover worked with representatives from The Larson Group Leasing, the Peterbilt-PacLease franchise in Springfield, Missouri, to spec out the lightest weight tractors without sacrificing residual value. They came up with the following:

Pete's Model 365 was an ideal choice that also appeals to fuel haulers and fleets looking for light weight. The Model 365 has a single 120-gallon fuel tank and a shorter wheelbase (210 to 216 inches). For power, the tractor has a 410-horsepower Cummins ISM engine and an Eaton Fuller 10-speed transmission. The specs developed for Coover Trucking include a fixed-position fifthwheel, air-ride suspension, Centrifuse brake drums, aluminum disc wheels, and low-profile dual tires.

Coover Trucking also looked for weight savings from blowers and other product handling equipment. The carrier uses both Gardner Denver and Tuthill blowers.

Dry bulkers

All 14 of the dry bulk trailers are owned by the carrier. Supplied by Heil Trailer International, J&L Tank, and Vantage Trailers Inc, the bulkers have capacities ranging from 1,000 cu ft to 1,040 cu ft.

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Most of the trailers can accommodate a 55,000-lb payload. However, two bulkers were specified with a spread-axle configuration that enables them to scale a 60,000-lb payload in Kansas.

The newest dry bulk trailers were specified with the Hendrickson Intraax air suspension system, Bridgestone tires, aluminum disc wheels, and the Cat's Eye tire pressure monitoring system.

Dave Coover anticipates a busy and productive year for his fleet. Every one of the 14 rigs should be running every day. ♦