AN uncompromising commitment to service and safety has brought steady success to G&D Trucking Inc/Hoffman Transportation LLC for nearly 40 years. It is a commitment that permeates every level of the transload and bulk transport specialist.
The safety focus in particular brought special recognition this year. The Channahon, Illinois-based fleet received the National Tank Truck Carriers Heil Trophy for Outstanding Safety Performance in the Austin Sutherland Division (for tank truck carriers running less than 15 million miles annually). G&D Trucking/Hoffman Transportation earned the award with an accident frequency of just .09 accidents per million miles.
Jerry Curl, who oversees the fleet safety program as G&D Trucking/ Hoffman Transportation director of operations, was named NTTC Safety Professional of the Year in the Sutherland Division.
“We were greatly honored and privileged to be named the recipient of the 2017 Sutherland Heil Trophy Safety Award,” says Kevin Hoffman, president of G&D Trucking/Hoffman Transportation. “With so many safe and successful tank truck carriers in the industry, we are very humbled to have been selected.
“The recognition and accolades for this award are a reflection of the dedication and commitment to excellence by all of our people. It takes a team committed to safety excellence 24 hours a day. Our team includes drivers, dispatchers, mechanics, tank wash workers, railyard workers, and customer service personnel.
“Our drivers deserve the biggest share of recognition because they had the biggest role in winning the Heil Trophy. They haven’t had a recordable at-fault accident since 2013. Our 160 professional drivers truly are the elite of the elite.”
Curl adds that it was an exciting time for everyone in the company. “It really is like winning the Stanley Cup (in hockey) or the Super Bowl (in football),” he says. “Morale typically is high in this company, but this award took it to a whole new level. The trophy brought more recognition from shippers and other companies for the hard work our drivers do every day. A lot of people take the driver’s performance for granted.”
Management made sure all employees understand the important role they have played in helping earn the Heil Trophy for G&D Trucking/Hoffman Transportation. The celebration started with a companywide barbeque at the Coal City terminal on September 2, including country singer Phil Vassar performing. In December, the company presented every employee with a custom-designed commemorative ring.
The commitment to safety goes back to the company’s early years. After college, Hoffman’s focus was on farming, but the agricultural market was flat at the time. He decided trucking might make a good alternative.
Hoffman started with one truck and a dump trailer in 1981 hauling various cargoes including coal. By 1986, he saw the potential for hauling plastics. After visiting with representatives at a local plastics plant, he bought two vacuum pneumatic bulk trailers. Hoffman’s first transload location was a siding rented from the Texaco facility in Lockport, Illinois. He was just 23 years old when he began building the Christian-minded, family-oriented company.
Ten years later, Hoffman significantly increased his company’s plastics transloading and transportation commitment with the purchase of an 80-acre site in Channahon. The property was adjacent to plastics plants and the BNSF main line.
Within months, the first 21,000 feet of track put down at the new location was filled to capacity with railcars. Today, the facility can handle up to 650 railcars on track covering 40 acres, and another 40 acres is still available for development.
Next came a 70-car spot transload facility in Fort Smith, Arkansas (A&M Railroad), and then a 60-car spot location in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The fourth site in the system is in Old Hickory, Tennessee, and includes a 110,000-sq-ft warehouse and track capacity for 110 railcars.
The newest location in the G&D Trucking/Hoffman Transportation system is in Coal City, Illinois (Union Pacific Railroad). Still in the finishing stages, the facility includes a 450,000-sq-ft warehouse with enough available land for significant expansion in the future. Three hundred rail car spots are now operational, with more to come.
“We see more warehousing in our future,” Hoffman says. “We have built the Coal City location with an eye on the future. Warehouse operations in Coal City will be focused on plastics in gaylords and super sacks, and we are fabricating our own bulk packaging silos for filling those containers. The facility will employ roughly 100 workers when fully staffed.
“We will have trucks based at the locations, and we have provided plenty of driver features including a spacious driver’s lounge, kitchen, laundry facilities, and restrooms with showers.”
Across the breadth of the operation, G&D Trucking/Hoffman Transportation has deployed a broad range of specialized transload equipment. This includes pneumatic conveying units, portable ethanol and flammable products transfer units, and a state-of-the-art portable acid transloading rack. The company even has its own locomotive for shuttling railcars at the Channahon and Coal City locations.
Transloading accounts for 80% of the company’s business, and 75% of the products handled are dry bulk, overwhelmingly plastics. Liquid cargoes include acids, methanol, glycol, and biodiesel.
Most fleet operations are within a 400-mile radius of the transload facilities, and many shipments are local. However, G&D Trucking/Hoffman Transportation serves customers throughout the continental United States and Canada.
“We run to both coasts, and our hauls are out and back,” says Jordan Hoffman, vice-president of sales and marketing at G&D Trucking/Hoffman Transportation. “To ensure that we give customers the service they expect, our equipment is dedicated to specific types of products. We have a team of experienced dispatchers who manage fleet operations using Trimble’s TMW Suite. Most importantly, all of our drivers are company employees.
“We have a great team working with us, and we serve a very loyal group of customers. We still have our original customers. We solve problems, and we do our very best to avoid mistakes. We’re constantly improving our operation.”
The company has ISO 9000 certification, and management keeps a close watch on key indicators and trends. “For instance are we providing the right services in the right markets,” Curl says. “Are we meeting our customer’s needs? What can we do to make the driver’s job safer during loading and unloading at the customer’s facility?
“We need to make sure we have the right people in the right roles to ensure a safe, efficient operation. Our people in key positions have done the jobs they manage. They know the procedures, and they know how to train people in those operations.”
Drivers are a particular focal point. With a turnover rate of less than 3%, the company can afford to be selective in its driver hiring process. Only highly experienced professional drivers are chosen, and most are referred by other Hoffman Transportation drivers.
“We never hire to fill a seat,” Kevin Hoffman says. “We need drivers who are true tank truck professionals. They are at a higher level, which is important because the vacuum-pneumatic trailers in our fleet are very specialized equipment. Many of the plastics we haul are specialized products that must be handled properly.”
The average of experience for Hoffman Transportation/G&D Trucking Inc drivers is 31 years and 3.4 million miles of driving. The average age of a driver is 50 years old, and each driver is hand selected for the fleet has over 10 years experience and more than one million mile of safe driving.
Even with all of that experience, newly hired drivers are put through a comprehensive orientation and training program. “We do a lot of training at this company,” Curl says. “Each newly hired driver spends two weeks in training. We discuss equipment operation in great detail. We review maintenance factors for the tractors and trailers, as well as proper operation of the product loading and unloading systems. We discuss why we want things done a certain way, including proper operation of the truck and components that have been spec’d to maximize safety and performance.”
Safety is a constant theme through the initial training, and that is just the beginning. “We explain that safety is part of our culture and everyone must buy in,” Curl says. “We communicate our safety expectations very clearly and we encourage feedback.”
In fact, communication is a critical part of the safety program. “If we as managers aren’t communicating with our people, we are failing at our jobs,” he says. “Most importantly, we have to be able to listen. When we are speaking, we’re not listening. If employees aren’t heard, they don’t feel valuable.
“When employees bring ideas to us—for safety or anything else—and see those ideas put into play, they take a lot of ownership in the program. It makes them proud. It makes them feel like they are really part of something. It helps with morale and reinforces the family atmosphere.”
Communication isn’t just with employees. G&D Trucking/Hoffman Transportation includes the families to ensure a strong Christian-based foundation is maintained along with adequate family time.
“You can talk about statistics and such during driver safety meetings, but when you make it personal, you get their attention very quickly,” Curl says. “Statistics are not just members. They are people-someone’s family.”
Beyond the training, the safety effort includes providing drivers with stat-of-the-art vehicle technology. “We have embraced safety technology, and we believe many of these systems should be standard equipment on today’s tractors and trailers,” Curl says. “We use technology to help our drivers get better and safer at what they do, but we also believe technology should make the job less stressful for our drivers.
“We work closely with our equipment suppliers, and they have used our fleet for testing systems. Our drivers provide valuable feedback.”
The newest Peterbilt and Kenworth tractors in the fleet were specified with Bendix Wingman Fusion systems that include collision avoidance, roll stability, and lane departure warning. Tractor technology includes PeopleNet on-board computers.
Much of the fleet maintenance is performed in-house, and the maintenance department keeps a close watch on vehicle performance using Trimble’s TMT maintenance management software.
“We collect our own real-world data on our fleet,” Curl says. “Manufacturers’ standard data just doesn’t work for us. We have put programs in place to monitor trends in component failures to eliminate the downtime based on our operating conditions. We track maintenance breakdowns very closely. It’s all part of our overall effort to provide the best possible customer service.”