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D G Coleman uses premium tractors to promote driver retention, fleet image

WHEN Jim Coleman wanted to do something special for his senior drivers, he bought them Kenworth W990s. So far, eight senior company drivers have received the tractors with the iconic long-nose profile.

Coleman is chief operating officer and owner of D G Coleman Inc in Commerce City, Colorado. The carrier operates a diverse fleet that includes 105 tractors and 132 trailers, including dry bulkers and tanks.

“When those eight W990s arrived several months ago, our drivers were pretty excited,” Coleman says. “We had run W900s in the past, and we wanted to recapture that old-school look. When I started with the company, I did light maintenance, then dispatch, and then became a driver. I still drive on occasion and I know the importance of a quality and comfortable rig. I’ve been there. The W990 gives us that comfort and quality, along with the long hood that truckers just love.

“We feel Kenworth’s W990 will not only help us with driver retention, but its great look showcases our company. It shows quality and mirrors our own image.”

Regional carrier

The regional trucking company got its start in 1972 when Jim’s parents—Dan and Kathy—bought their first truck and leased on with Ruan Transport. Their lease operation grew steadily over the next 40 years. By 2012, D G Coleman had 60 trucks leased to Ruan and had another 25 trucks hauling aggregates.

“We also had become the largest transporter of hazardous materials in stainless steel tank trailers in Colorado with 32 code tank trailers,” Jim says. “We were hauling water treatment chemicals, acids, caustics, and liquid wastes, such as oils and solvents.

“We finally reached a point where we felt that the regulatory burden and insurance cost related to hazmat hauling had become too much. We dropped the hazmat and bought Ruan Group’s Single Source Transportation operation in Colorado, which doubled the size of our fleet operation overnight. Single Source transported cement and fly ash. With that deal, we parted ways with Ruan.”

Family focus

Even as the cargo focus changed, D G Coleman remained very much a family operation. Ten of 13 employees in the office in Commerce City are family members. Dan, at 73, still serves as president, while Kathy is vice-president. They started their succession planning for the company a year ago to engage the next generation.

Like his father, who was chairman of the Colorado Motor Carrier Association in 2009, Jim is also active in promoting and improving the trucking industry. He is the current CMCA chairman.

“One of the things my dad help spearhead was chain-up stations for trucks along I-70, which goes from Vail Pass to the west, to Mt Vernon Canyon to the east,” Jim says. “At the top is Eisenhower Tunnel (elevation 11,158 feet). It’s a difficult pass to drive and expanded chain-up lanes for truckers were really needed.

“Recently our association was involved with the Colorado Department of Transportation to put together and promote ‘The Mountain Rules’ truck safety campaign for that very same interstate. Part of the program has safety alerts through Drivewyze and PrePass, which alerts drivers to upcoming brake check areas for safe pull-offs—using those chain-up areas my dad was involved with. And it alerts to steep grades and runaway ramps. It was great to be involved with a safety program that can really make a difference for motorists and truckers alike.”

Of the three office staffers who aren’t family, it’s almost as if they were, according to Jim, who is co-owner of D G Coleman along with his brother Rich and sister Tammy. “One is lead dispatcher for our pneumatic division, and he’s been with us for eight years; and our HR manager has been with us two years,” Jim says. “We also consider our drivers part of the family. They know our history and can see our family bond. All told, we’re a tight-knit group.”

Diversified operation

The management team directs a trucking operation that has become increasingly diversified. Today, the carrier operates 50 dry bulk trailers that are used to transport cement and fly ash, 25 end dumps and 10 belly dumps, 15 stainless steel tank trailers that haul glycol used for deicing aircraft and runways, 12 foodgrade stainless tank trailers that transport drinking water, 15 refrigerated vans used for produce and beer, and five general freight vans.

While D G Coleman has 48-state authority, most operations are conducted in Colorado and the surrounding western states. Length of haul typically ranges from 30 to 120 miles.

“This region we serve has a strong economy, and we have plenty to do up and down the front range of Colorado,” Jim says. “We do a lot of local runs, but our drivers also have to handle the challenges of mountain driving in all conditions.”

For one customer, D G Coleman hauls drinking water in six-axle tractor-trailer combinations with a 97,000-lb gross combination weight. The higher gross combination weight is allowed on state highways in Colorado. The drinking water is hauled from the source in Buena Vista and Fairplay to the bottling plant in Denver.

“We haul 18 to 20 loads a day from Buena Vista and back to Denver,” Jim says. “That area is about 120 miles west of Denver and our trucks go through four mountain passes. We need plenty of power going up, and we need the power to stop going down. It’s one reason we equipped all our trucks with disc brakes. We slip-seat the drinking water transports, and each trip takes about 10 hours.”

Longer trips

Some of the longest trips are made by the transports hauling glycol used in deicing. The five-axle tank transports can handle gross combination weights of up to 92,000 pounds, and shipments are delivered to customers as far away as Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington. Shipments are loaded at a 23-car transload siding near Commerce City.

Dry bulk transports haul cement and fly ash to a wide range of customers including ready mix and precast operations across the region. Dry bulk transports are staged at a number of locations, including a location in Ogallala, Nebraska, that is near a fly ash producer.

Being primarily a regional operation, D G Coleman operates mostly daycabs. The carrier runs T680s in the dry van and reefer operation and T880s across the rest of the fleet.

“So room inside the truck is really important,” Jim says. “And it’s why we like the Kenworth T680 and T880. It was also a big selling point on the W990 as compared to the W900 that we’ve run before. The W990 cab is so much wider and the same as our T680s and T880s.”

With its most recent purchases, the carrier has specified the PACCAR MX-13 engine rated at 455 horsepower, and recently added the PACCAR 12-speed automated transmission. “Our drivers really like the PACCAR transmission,” Jim says. “The automated shifting is much smoother than what we were using previously, and the combination of the engine and transmission gives us plenty of power and torque for our heavy loads.”

Since the company makes money for every pound hauled in its aggregate and tanker divisions, lightweight specs were analyzed with MHC Kenworth, the local Kenworth dealer. “However, we don’t choose light weight at the expense of durability,” Jim says. “Our reputation has been built on our family name, which is all about integrity and reliability. The most critical thing for us is dependable equipment and meeting each customer’s delivery schedule. With that in mind, we were still able to spec integrated knuckle, lightweight front springs, plus Alcoa aluminum wheels and a SAF-Holland fixed aluminum fifthwheel.”

With a five-year trade cycle, D G Coleman has seen firsthand the value of their Kenworths in helping to drive down operating costs.

“To be successful you need to look at total life cycle costs—and we do,” Jim says. “Vehicle reliability, driver acceptance and fuel economy are key, and that helps fuel resale value. And with good resale values, the bottom line looks a whole lot better. With the delivery of 22 T880s in December, we will be a 100% Kenworth fleet.”

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