Name: Jack Himes, Gettysburg, PA
Equipment: 1998 Peterbilt 379 with 53-ft. refrigerated trailer, two International tractors, another Peterbilt, and three trailers
Issue: Surviving the high cost of doing business as an independent
Jack Himes is a man with a heavy heart. An owner-operator with four trucks and trailers hauling perishables, frozen goods, and general freight, Himes once hoped that his son, now 15, would join him in the family business. It's one of the reasons he named his company Jack A. Himes & Son Trucking.
But Himes now fears that his company won't survive much longer in the current climate of high fuel prices, climbing insurance rates, increasing tolls, and slow- and low-pay freight.
“It costs me an extra $1,000 a month for fuel, taxes and tolls than it did a year and a half ago,” said Himes in an interview with FLEET OWNER. On top of that, no one wants to pay for fuel surcharges, which adds to his operating expenses.
Himes is particularly upset about how the image of truckers in general, not just owner-operators, has changed over the years. “I got into the business 23 years ago because it was an admirable career,” he said. “Today, however, trucking is at the bottom of the barrel.”
For example, Himes said that even though 80% of the freight he handles is prepaid by shippers, it takes him anywhere from 30 to 45 days to get his money from the brokers. This situation forced him to ask the bank for help by providing a steady cash flow so he has enough money on hand to operate his business. But with a price tag of 2% of his revenue, it's something he really can't afford. Himes, who wryly refers to the CDL designation as “certified driver and lumper,” is also concerned about shippers that are using drivers as unpaid warehouse workers. “I don't own the freight, I haul it. So why should I have to load and store it?” he asks. “I don't get paid for the warehousing work I do, yet it's costing me time and money.”
Himes employs three other drivers in his operation. Two haul freight throughout the continental U.S., while he and the other driver work the East Coast.
“My drivers treat my trucks like it's their own equipment,” he said. “They get to pick and choose the loads they want — as long as the wheels turn and revenues come in.” Himes is quick to add that his wife, who manages all of the company's paperwork, is also a key part of the business. “I wouldn't survive in this business without her.”
To meet these challenges, Himes works with other owner-operators and owners of small trucking businesses to build economies of scale that will help them compete in such a tough market. “We — the small guys — survive by working together so we can cover more areas and serve larger customers,” he said.
Himes would like organizations like the National Owner Operator Trucking Assn. (NOOTA) and others to help develop a nationwide network of brokers that pay on time and provide good freight.
He also thinks drivers should do more to make their voices heard. Himes joined a rally last November on Capitol Hill sponsored by NOOTA to protest higher fuel and toll prices, but was disappointed by the low turnout.
“We all need to shut down for two days and let everyone know how important we are.”
Despite the pressures, Himes wants to keep driving. “I like working for myself and I like the freedom of the road,” he said. “I plan to stick with it as long as I can.”
This monthly column presents the independent contractor's perspective on working relationships with fleets and fleet managers.