Safety vision: Gemini's second Heil trophy a fitting memorial to Love's founder

Oct. 11, 2023
Fuel hauler for Love's Travel Stops credits teamwork, training, top-notch tankers for second NTTC safety title—secured soon after the passing of beloved group leader Tom Love

The late Tom Love could see it before anyone else: A fleet of—yellow?!—tank trailers would become synonymous with his family’s growing network of travel centers. Brent Bergevin, executive vice president of transportation, thought he was nuts.

“I thought, ‘Tom, that would be the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,’” recalled Bergevin, who helped establish Gemini Motor Transport, the primary fuel hauler for Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores, in 2001. “And now every one of our trucks is yellow—and we haul one of the most iconic tankers in America. Everybody knows who operates those vehicles. It just shows you how smart he was compared to me.

“He was an unbelievable visionary.”

His foresight extended far beyond smart branding, and savvy business sense, fueling the lifelong passions for selfless service and worker well-being that made him a highly respected member of his community, and beloved leader for the Love’s Family of Companies, which includes Musket Corporation, Trillium, and Speedco. “Nothing was more important than our employees,” Bergevin said. “That’s how he always saw it.”

If only he had lived to see Heil trophy No. 2.

Tom Love, widely admired for his “genuine humility, good-natured disposition, generosity, and helpfulness toward others,” Love’s said in a release, died March 7 at 85 years old in his hometown of Oklahoma City—only 2½ months before Gemini garnered a second North American safety championship during National Tank Truck Carriers’ 2023 Annual Conference in Boston. But snaring NTTC’s first private-fleet award served as both a fitting memorial to Tom’s innovative spirit, and timely testament to the safety culture he inspired.  

“The only regret I have is he wasn’t here to see it, because I know how happy he would have been,” Bergevin said.

“He was extremely proud of the first one.”

Working together

Bergevin, 62, didn’t see those yellow tankers right away, but he was smart enough to recognize Tom’s ambition—and quickly embrace his vision for the future of Love’s. “When I came to Love’s in 1997, they were only in five states,” Bergevin recounted. “They were in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. And he convinced me they were going to be the next national brand of travel centers, and be the best one of them all, and at that time you had Pilot, Flying J, Petro, and TA all operating as separate companies.”

Four years later, Tom asked Bergevin to start a transport division to service Love’s stores, and having grown up around trucks, and the petroleum industry, he eagerly acquiesced. Bergevin ran the Stadium Shell service station near Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin, as a senior in high school, spent time in Houston with Shell Oil and Petroleum Wholesale, and worked with Pilot before leaving for Love’s, so he understood the importance of elite equipment and treating drivers fairly—and Tom saw he was the right man for the job.

Today, Gemini boasts more than 1,700 drivers and 1,100 trucks, and nearly 1,200 tank trailers. The carrier’s fleet last year traveled 128 million miles and this year is expected to deliver 900,000 loads and deposit 8 billion gallons of fuel, including diesel, biodiesel, gasoline, and ethanol, in underground storage tanks. “It took us 15 years to run our first billion miles,” Bergevin shared. “We’re going to do another billion in seven years.”

The expansive operations of the Love’s group include diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) production and transportation, a dry freight business with six distribution centers, a tire retread division, and more than 630 locations. Love’s Travel Centers now are in 42 U.S. states—and the company opens 30-35 stores a year. Love’s also is the only remaining large travel center operator that still is family owned. BP owns TA Petro and Berkshire Hathaway is the majority owner of Pilot Flying J, with the Haslam family retaining a 20% stake.

“I’ve run Gemini like I own it, and that’s what Tom told me to do,” Bergevin emphasized. “He said, ‘Pretend that’s your checkbook every day and run the business like it’s your own, because it will be if you do it that way.’ And I believe that. I do that every single day. I believe it’s my company … so I protect it at all costs.” His fully invested efforts include creating Gemini’s ironclad Code of Conduct, which features a no-rehire policy, and assembling an executive team capable of executing the transportation vision he shared with Tom. 

Bergevin recruited Jeremy Gravely, director of operations; Jim Dillon, truck assets manager; Todd Singleton, manager of maintenance and compliance; and Andy Lash, general manager of logistics—all of whom he credited in his May 23 acceptance speech. “It’s phenomenal how these guys work at such a high level day in and day out, and carry the torch I handed them when I said, ‘Help me build this company to be the best.’

“And I truly believe we are.”

Lash concurred, crediting their careful attention to customer service and safety—all while managing a 24/7/365 logistics operation—for their overall success.

“We have an outstanding team of individuals who know this business from the office and field side,” Lash said. “We’re constantly looking at the drivers’ schedules, customer demands, equipment availability, product supply changes—and how we keep everything working together.”

Driven by safety

Leaders agree Gemini’s drivers are the real MVPs in the field.

They face challenges every day while keeping Americans’ cars moving, including distracted driving, adverse weather conditions, and tight workspaces. Yet they recorded a frequency of only .282 accidents per million miles in the North American Safety Contest’s highest mileage class last year, after prevailing with a .291 for 2017.

“Our delivery locations are usually busy travel stops that include multiple tanks with a wide range of product types,” Gravely said. “So we have strict safety protocols for entering and exiting drop areas, along with extra procedures to confirm that we’re putting the correct product into the intended tank. It all requires a much greater attention to detail and safety awareness from our professional driving team.”

Driver training begins during the interview process with the introduction of the Code of Conduct, Gemini’s “Bible,” a highly detailed, one-page document that establishes employee expectations and explains stringent safety procedures. “You will abide by the rules, and if you don’t, you won’t be a part of this,” Bergevin said. The Code includes Gemini’s no-rehire policy designed to discourage “rebound” drivers. “I don’t want drivers going across the street for $25 more per day and failing, or their offer isn’t honored, and then begging for their jobs back,” Bergevin said. “So I won’t do that, and that’s made a big difference. For the business we’re in, we have extremely low turnover because we compensate our people right.”

Gemini’s drivers—all company employees paid by the hour—averaged $85,000 last year, with top earners exceeding $100,000, and most drivers home daily, Bergevin said. That’s why he doesn’t believe in a driver shortage—only a shortage of qualified drivers. Gemini received over 4,000 applications in the first six months of 2023, conducted 400 interviews, and hired 275 people. “I don’t spend anything on advertising,” he said. “You won’t see any ads for Gemini out there. It’s all word of mouth, and industry knowledge we’re a premium carrier, and if you’re fortunate enough to join us, you’ll make a good living and run good equipment.”

Training lasts from two to eight weeks, depending on the drivers’ experience level, and how many loading rack “cards” they must obtain. All drivers spend time with a certified trainer covering pre- and post-trip inspections, loading and unloading procedures, and individual loading rack and service station requirements. Then one of Gemini’s 23 regional managers—all but one of whom are former Gemini drivers—ride with the new driver while completing a certification checklist before they head out on their own. “By combining a rigorous hiring process, thorough inspections, and proactive communication, we strive to create the safest environment for all parties involved in Gemini’s transportation operations,” Singleton maintained.

New drivers are surveyed after 90 to 120 days to ensure all their questions have been answered—and they fully understand how to operate safely.

“People ask me, ‘Who is your safety director?’ And the beautiful thing is I’ve got 1,700 of them,” Bergevin insisted. “I’m not in the truck with that driver, so they must do the right thing on their own every single day. And today, with the traffic out there, road rage, and all these different things going on, they’ve got to be in control of the situation. They represent the Love’s family every time they go out with that truck and uniform. We get that message across loud and clear, our team responds, and that’s why we’re here.”

Life-saving equipment 

Drivers do head out on their own, but with attentive back-office support, and advanced technology in every truck, they’re never truly alone—and they’re always well-protected. Gemini’s newest International and Kenworth trucks boast Bendix Wingman Fusion systems, and Freightliner trucks sport Detroit Assurance safety. New collision avoidance features include side-object detection, backup alarms, brake assistance, speed intervention, and traffic sign recognition. “Utilizing these new technologies allows our drivers to be the safest on the road, and not only keeps them safe, but the motoring public as well,” Dillon said.

Tractors come with speed limiters set to 62 mph for pedal and 66 mph on cruise control, Sirius XM satellite radio—ensuring drivers have listening choices that “keep their attention, so they’re not falling asleep,” high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights, Geotab GPS and electronic logging devices (ELDs)—where inspections are recorded as electronic driver vehicle inspection reports (EDVIRs)—and five-camera Lytx setups.

When Gemini—which installed rear-facing cameras last year—first deployed inward-facing cameras six years ago in 150 trucks, safety managers began receiving 30-40 videos of drivers in coachable moments each day. Now dashcams are installed in more than 1,000 trucks but generate only 20-25 videos per day, Bergevin said. “They’ve changed driver behavior,” he said. “If you’re on your phone or you’re smoking, we’re going to call you out.”

Forward- and side-facing cameras give drivers 360-degree protection in accidents—most of which are caused by passenger vehicles. “Our drivers understand the benefits of those cameras as a safety feature and have fully embraced them,” Gravely said.

IMMI’s RollTek seat is one of Bergevin’s favorite safety devices. In a side impact or rollover, the seat lowers and a side airbag deploys, preventing the driver from ejecting the vehicle or hitting their head on the roof or B-pillar. Bergevin says six Gemini drivers are alive today because the seats helped them survive horrific wrecks, allowing Gemini to cover nearly 1.2 billion miles without a driver fatality. “They’re absolutely a life saver,” he said.

All trucks and trailers are spec’d with disc brakes, and Gemini’s tank trailers feature Hendrickson TireMaax Pro tire pressure control systems. Dillon insists on using Intellistop’s pulsating brake lamp modules on all new trailers, saying they’ve helped Gemini reduce rear-end collisions by 30% in the last two years. “We genuinely believe anything that can help catch the attention of someone following one of our trucks while it is slowing down or stopping will greatly improve our chances of not being rear-ended,” he said.

Gemini seeks to maintain a three- to four-year trade cycle to keep safety systems current, curb maintenance costs, and protect residual value. Trucks receive “dry” preventative maintenance (PMs), like inspections and grease jobs, every 30,000 miles and “wet” PMs—which add oil and filter changes—every 60,000 miles. Trailer tests and inspections include 90-day inspections, one-year Department of Transportation (DOT) inspections, Method 27 VK tests, five-year Method 27 VKIP tests, and frequent terminal checkups.

Finally, onboard diagnostics keep maintenance personnel apprised of any issues in real time.

“This proactive approach enables the maintenance team to efficiently schedule necessary repairs, ensuring our equipment remains in optimal condition and our drivers enjoy the safest possible working environment,” Singleton said.

Love for the game

With conscientious leaders, skilled drivers, and elite equipment, Gemini likely will remain in the running for NTTC’s new private-fleet title for years to come—and perhaps one day challenge Groendyke’s record of eight trophies.

That’s the plan anyway. “We’re certainly going to try,” Bergevin confirmed.

“Our goal every single year is to be the best in the industry—and this trophy confirms that you are the best.”

Gemini hoisted its initial Heil trophy while competing in the Harvison division of the 2017 North American Safety Contest. But only 20% of its loads are hauled for third parties, so Bergevin was an early advocate for adding a third division for exclusively private fleets, which NTTC’s Safety and Security Council did last December. The first private-fleet finalists, who all secured Grand Awards in the 2022 Competitive Safety Contest, included CLI Transport (Class 2), Casey’s Services Company (Class 3), LSP Transport (Class 4), and Poolsure (Class 5).

Gemini has claimed nine consecutive Grand Awards in its mileage class.

“I was one of the proponents who said, ‘We need to modernize the standards for how you’re picking these fleets,’ and not only the grand champion, but also how you’re picking category winners,” Bergevin said. “And we needed to open it up to more real numbers that could be verified. Because if you’re just going by what people tell you, that’s not always going to be 100% honest and trustworthy.” And with new categories and verifiable data for judges to consider now in place, Gemini quickly emerged as a two-time safety champ.

“I never thought we’d win the first one, so I was shocked, and very happy,” Bergevin said. “I don’t put a lot of effort into bragging about Gemini, but I figured, ‘Hey, let’s fill this out and see how we do,’ and we won. So it was shocking, and outstanding, obviously. But ever since then I’ve wanted a second one. I always told the Love family, ‘I’m getting another one before I retire from this business.’ And so I was very pleased to get the trophy.

“I feel like we’re the best carrier every day, so when we don’t win, I’m disappointed. But it was a huge honor to win it for the second time, and having most of my main team there with me made it even more satisfying.”

Now he’s ready to do it again, for his team, his drivers—and the Love family’s visionary founder.

“Tom Love had a motto, and I’ve also lived by it every single day, and that is ‘Yesterday’s trophies don’t win tomorrow’s games,’” Bergevin said. “I love that.”