MANAGERS: T. Guy Wilson, Alan Griffin, John Lane
TITLES: President and fleet maintenance managers, respectively
FLEET: Wilson Trucking Corp., Fishersville, VA
OPERATION: Regional TL & LTL carrier serving the Southeastern U.S. with 740 trucks and 1,500 trailers.
Trucks and trailers may change, but several things in the freight hauling business never change, such as the need to move cargo from one place to another safely and quickly with maximum efficiency.
And while a whole lot of human hands are necessary to move that freight, if trucks and trailers break down, nothing moves. That's just one reason why Wilson Trucking Corp. pays exceedingly close attention to how it maintains its equipment — to the point where it'll keep equipment operating in its fleet that many consider well past retirement age.
“We hang on to our equipment longer here for two reasons. We start with good equipment, and we believe we'll get more uptime at less expense if we take good care of it over a long time period,” says T. Guy Wilson, the company's president.
“We made the decision many years ago that if we spent the right amount of money on maintenance and kept our trucks in a ‘like-new’ condition, we could keep them longer, operate them better, and sell them more easily when the time came to retire them,” adds Alan Griffin, one of Wilson's long-time maintenance managers. “In the long run, that would be less expensive than buying new equipment every five to seven years like many [other fleets] did.”
Founded in 1926 by C.G. “Boss” Wilson with just two trucks, Wilson Trucking now operates over 740 trucks and 1,500 trailers from 35 terminals throughout the Southeast. T. Guy Wilson notes that the company's maintenance philosophy and overall success is largely attributed to principles put in place by his father, Buddy Wilson, the second generation to run the family business.
“Dad was a bomber pilot in World War II and he was always very close with the maintenance crews on the ground,” Wilson says. “It was obvious to him that having good, well-maintained equipment would help his crew survive their bombing missions, and he instilled that maintenance mind-set in our company.”
Both Griffin and fellow maintenance manager John Lane believe the company's fundamental focus on the importance of maintenance is one of the major reasons the company has been so successful. “Preventive maintenance is a mere fraction of the cost to fix a breakdown on the road, so we feel the more often we look over our trucks and do things such as change the oil, the more money we'll save,” Griffin says, noting that Wilson operates 21 shops across its network. “It is far easier and less costly to fix small problems than big ones. It's all about paying a little bit now or a lot later on.”
T. Guy points out that the company typically keeps its linehaul equipment for eight or more years on average, with 10 to 15 years being the usual ownership range for pickup and delivery units, and he stresses that the fleet has no trouble selling its old equipment at all, as buyers know it's been kept in good condition.
Lane adds that while maintenance techniques and tools have changed, philosophies have not. “You still have to focus on the basics — changing the oil and other fluids regularly, making sure all the components are holding up,” he explains.
“I remember once in the 1980s when Buddy asked me to price out how much it would cost us to put automatic [brake] slack adjusters on all of our trucks,” Lane adds. “I worked it out to about $16,000, which was a lot of money back then. I thought that was way too expensive and told him so. He looked me in the eye and said, ‘How much do you think just one accident costs us? How many of those things could I buy for $1 million?’ In short, we put them on the trucks because he knew maintenance affected safety and safety affected the bottom line. It was that simple.”