When Dixon Bros. Inc. started operating tanker trucks 47 years ago, propane was its sole commodity. Today the Newcastle, WY-based carrier is much more diverse, hauling a variety of petroleum products from crude oil to finished fuels and motor oils, as well as chemicals for a major chemical producer. In the summer months, they even deliver asphalt and bulk cement to construction sites.
Dixon Bros.' clients include such giants as ConocoPhillips and Kroger, a major supermarket chain. “We haul for everybody from the mom-and-pop convenience store operator to the Fortune 500 companies,” says Jim Dixon, CEO and chairman of the board.
Distribution services extend throughout most of the Northwest, with intra-state operations in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, North and South Dakota, Nebraska and Minnesota. The trucks also travel interstate to all of the surrounding states and to four western Canadian provinces as well.
Dixon Bros.' trucking equipment is 100% company owned. There are currently 90 power units in the fleet, all Kenworth W900s, and 300 tanker trailers, the latest purchases being from Heil Trailer International. The large ratio of tanker trailers to power units, Dixon explains, is because most hauls are accomplished using doubles-trailers in order to maximize profitability. The tankers' capacities range from 9,500 to 10,500 gallons.
All of the power units, Dixon adds, are rigged with hydraulics that run the unloading system mounted on the tanker trailers. “Every tractor-trailer,” he points out, “is spec'd to be capable of performing any duty that may be required of it. A truck today might be delivering a petroleum product and tomorrow hauling a chemical. Drivers are also cross-trained in the company's total product line.”
Dixon reports that most routine jobs, like delivering gasoline to convenience stores, are done over interstate highways. But Dixon Bros. also has a number of specialty operations that take the trucks over much rougher terrain.
For example, “we transport fuel for a major oil company to several different coal mines in the Powder River basin in Wyoming. Along with that, we haul blasting agents like ammonium nitrate from another major manufacturer into those coal mines.”
Delivering to the coal mine requires Dixon Bros. trucks to traverse roads built from a type of lava rock that's almost like glass and very hard on truck tires. The tires also take a beating going to a drilling site in Wyoming to pick up crude oil. Along the way, Dixon notes, the trucks must cross a shallow riverbed that's filled with rocks.
According to Dixon, the best steer tire he's come across is the Goodyear G 395 model, which is spec'd on 80% of the tractor fleet's steer axles. For the crucial drive position they use Goodyear G 338 tires. “That is the right tire when we have to run off-road and need traction like on the runs to the Powder River basin in Wyoming.”
In addition to the corporate offices at Newcastle, WY, Dixon Bros. has eight satellite facilities, including three more in Wyoming, one in South Dakota, two in North Dakota, and two in Montana. Dixon notes that 95% of the hauls allow drivers and trucks to go out and back the same day, out of a fixed location.
While the terrain may be rough going in some areas, it's the weather that Dixon says is the most challenging part of their operations. In fact, this year an early spring blizzard resulted in a 50-vehicle pile up on I-90 between Buffalo and Sheridan, WY, causing roads to be closed for three days.
“We frequently encounter adverse weather conditions in the Rocky Mountain areas,” Dixon explains. “We try to communicate with the different state agencies to determine what the weather and roads are like, so we can keep our drivers and trucks away from traffic accidents and backups.
“We also want to keep the motoring public safe. Our trucks for the most part are carrying hazardous and highly flammable loads so it's crucial we avoid getting into accident situations. When conditions are poor, we tell our drivers to find the nearest exit and get off the road so nobody can accidentally get hurt.”