Perkins Specialized Transportation Contracting is not just your average heavy hauler. Neil Perkins, president of the Northfield, MN-based company, says his operation is part of a very small market niche where everything transported by his fleet is extremely large, extremely heavy or both. “It's all we do. This type of work requires intense focus on the project at hand.”
Perkins operates throughout North America. Customers are primarily energy, electrical, oil, gas and other heavy manufacturing companies, for whom the Perkins fleet moves a variety of items from electrical generators and turbines to boilers, reactors and vessels for oil refineries. It's not unusual, for instance, for a truck to travel empty from Minnesota to Florida to move a nuclear reactor 60 mi., then return home empty once again.
Unlike typical over-the-road fleets, the ratio of trucks to trailers is much greater in the Perkins fleet since most hauls require at least two tractors — one to pull and one to push the trailer with its heavy load. “We have 20 Class 8 tractors, primarily C-500 model Kenworths powered by Caterpillar 500- and 660-hp. engines,” Perkins explains. “They are spec'd with 70,000-lb. planetary rear ends and most have an Allison automatic transmission with a 4-spd. manual behind it.”
Using modular components, Perkins is capable of putting together ten trailers at any given time to meet the very specialized requirements of each haul. The ten trailers, Perkins explains, can be assembled in 4,000 different configurations, such as by adding or deleting axles, adjusting cargo space length- and width-wise, and extending the width of the trailer anywhere from 8½ to 20 ft.
“We also have about a dozen support vehicles, most of which are Dodge Sprinter vans,” Perkins states. “They are fully equipped with all the warning lights, signs, tools and parts for on-road repairs. Their primary function is to escort the load as per the permit requirements of the various states they travel through.”
When a load leaves the Northfield, MN, yard, it generally has a crew of five people going with it — a pull-truck driver, a push-truck driver, front escort vehicle driver, rear escort and a field superintendent in a pickup truck, whose job it is to manage the entire move in the field.
Each job Perkins accepts requires a long lead time to carefully plan out the logistics of the haul and to apply for and receive the proper permits for oversized, overweight transport. “We have a job slated for 2011 that we're working on putting together now,” Perkins says. “Dealing with the regulatory environment is without a doubt the most challenging part of our operation. Each state has its own set of rules governing the configuration of our equipment, and permit application lead times can vary from five working days to four months.”
Perkins Specialized Transportation Contracting does all its own vehicle maintenance other than warranty work. Its well-equipped shop also is capable of doing just about any kind of metal fabrication, and Perkins manufactures all its own fenders and headache racks for the tractors, its own stainless steel hydraulic fluid reservoirs and push blocks for the fronts of tractors. Eight full-time technicians handle preventive maintenance and repairs, metal fabrication, equipment assembly and warehouse operations for the company.
There are 35 field personnel, including drivers, crew persons and field superintendents. “One of the primary initiatives we established some time back was to hire and train people to work our way. We put them through an extensive training program. While they usually start out as a crew member or escort driver, our people are all given the opportunity to work their way up through the ranks as they learn our policies and procedures,” Perkins reports.
Despite the complexity of the projects Perkins undertakes and the high level of skills it requires of its drivers and crew, the company has some people who have been onboard for as long as 25 years. This speaks well for Perkins in a day and age of high driver turnover rates.