At Mennel Milling Co., the ability to haul maximum payloads is becoming an increasingly more difficult challenge, says Gary L. Strausbaugh, vice president of transportation. “If we lose 500 lbs. of carrying capacity on two regional loads per day,” he states, “we'd have to haul an extra load every week to make up the difference.
“One of the issues we've run into as we plan to purchase tractors with new emissions-compliant engines is how to address rising vehicle weight,” Strausbaugh explains. “Our goal with our pneumatic bulk trailers is to go out the door with 55,000 lbs. of payload. When you add the higher weight of new engines and diesel particulate filters, plus diesel exhaust fluid and tanks, it's a struggle to maintain 54,000 lbs. of payload.”
Based in Fostoria, OH, Mennel Milling has been milling wheat into flour products since 1886. Purchased by the Mennel family in 1917, the company is now owned and managed by a fourth generation. The company fleet operates at five mills in Ohio, Michigan, Virginia and Illinois, and five grain elevators in Ohio, Indiana and Virginia. A variety of flour products milled to each customer's exact specifications and used by national companies and independent bakers can be found in many common food items.
Mennel's private fleet includes Fostoria-based MMC Transport Inc. and MMC Transport of Virginia Inc., headquartered in Roanoke. In the fleets are 65 tractors consisting mostly of International 8600 models for short-haul regional runs and ProStars for longer routes. The tractors range in age from 2000 to 2011 models.
With vehicle weights going up, the company opted to buy early, replacing some older tractors before 2010 engines came on line. Today, replacement needs and growing demand are causing Mennel to make new buying decisions.
HOW LIGHT CAN YOU GO?
“Our specification discussions are centered on how light we can make our tractors,” Strausbaugh says. “We're closely comparing the weight of our engine options to find the lightest alternative that doesn't compromise on power. We're also considering things like aluminum fifth wheels. Our focus is on power units because our bulk pneumatic trailers are already down to about 9,800 lbs. for a 2,000-cu. ft. model.”
The Mennel trailer fleet consists of about 45 tankers that carry loads of milled flour to customers. There are also a dozen or so grain hoppers that bring raw material to the company's mills, six flatbeds, and 15 to 20 dry vans for hauling sack flour.
In addition to fulfilling his daily obligations at Mennel, Strausbaugh is very active in the National Private Truck Council and is currently vice chair.
“Safety is always one of the biggest issues we face as an industry and in our individual fleets,” Strausbaugh states. “At Mennel we're very proactive. We've instituted vehicle safety lanes for inspections and computer-based training and quarterly safety meetings for all of our drivers. We also send them for training at manufacturers' proving grounds.”
For the past six years, all of Mennel's new tractors have been equipped with Eaton Vorad forward collision warning systems, and the company is looking into adding lane departure warning systems. “The goal is to add systems that enhance safety without being even more distracting,” Strausbaugh says.
Staying competitive is of the utmost importance for the Mennel private fleet operation, which bids against contract carriers on lanes and loads offered by its parent company. “We're not always the least expensive,” Strausbaugh says, “but we bring something a little different to the game because what we have to sell is the best overall service.”