Hauling freight in America's 49th state presents many unique challenges, but for Carlile Transportation Systems, it's all in a day's work. In operation since 1980, Alaska's largest heavy-haul carrier has had plenty of experience in spec'ing equipment to run over some of the country's most treacherous highways and often in sub-zero temperatures.
Harry McDonald, president of the Anchorage, AK-based company, says: “Alaska is a fairly small market so we have to be more diversified than carriers down south. We transport all kinds of goods into our state, both by highway and by water, shipping our trailers out of Tacoma, WA, to Anchorage via Totem Ocean Trailer Express.”
In addition to key terminals in Anchorage and Tacoma, WA, Carlile Transportation Systems also has facilities in Fairbanks, Prudhoe Bay, and Kenai, AK, as well as sub-terminals with small staffs in Seward and Kodiak, AK, Edmonton, AB, Forest Lake, MN, and Houston, TX.
According to McDonald, 90% of Carlile's customers are based in Alaska, with 35% to 40% of total freight volume going to the Prudhoe Bay oil fields on Alaska's North Slope. For the oil fields, Carlile transports everything from fuel, groceries and medical supplies to heavy equipment and pipes for the pipeline.
The Carlile fleet includes 250 Class 8 tractors. The majority are either Kenworth W900 models, which McDonald says drivers like for their classic-hood styling, or T800s, whose sloping hoods offer excellent visibility. All power units are spec'd for Alaskan operations with 46,000-lb.-capacity drive axles, 475- or 550-hp. Caterpillar and Cummins diesels, and heavy-duty drivetrains.
“The trucks we use for the heaviest hauls are set up a little differently than our normal Alaska spec,” McDonald points out. “Most of them are equipped with 52,000-lb. drivers, a lift axle to help carry extra weight, 20,000-lb front ends, 550-hp. Cats, 18+2-speed transmissions and wide-nose radiators. A number also have winches mounted on them.”
The carrier runs about 50 different types of low-boy trailers in the heavy-haul division, including two brand new 85-ton-capacity Aspen units, built in Leduc, AB.
“We've also just taken delivery of a new 125-ton Cozad low boy from the factory in Edmonton,” McDonald reports. “It's self-steering on the back and has 80-ft. deck sections.”
Carlile does most of its own equipment maintenance and has roughly 45 technicians between its shops in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Prudhoe Bay and Kenai. “We have a lot more maintenance issues in Alaska than fleet operators do in the lower 48 states,” McDonald explains.
“Things break down easier in the cold, and it's harder to work on the equipment in cold weather,” he says. “In addition, some of our trucks have to travel nearly 500 miles of gravel roads on the trip to Prudhoe Bay. Keeping the equipment up and running cost-effectively is a challenge.”
One of Carlile's biggest jobs is hauling 100-ton modules that measure 80-ft. long by 22-ft. wide and 15 to 16-ft. high. “Many of the oil fields' production plants are built in sections here in Anchorage. We truck them to Prudhoe Bay, where they're assembled into one big facility,” McDonald explains.
“Moving a 100-ton module involves using one truck as a prime mover, plus four others as push trucks to get the load up steep grades between Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay,” he adds. Carlile also moves a lot of big equipment to construction and mining sites.
McDonald says the heavy-haul side of the business is more cyclical than general freight. “The busiest time is February through April, as far as moving the really big stuff, but we try to keep our drivers busy all the time. Because we offer them challenging and sustaining work, many of our drivers have been with us for a very long time.”