I’ve never owned my own truck, but I’ve always been around owner ops. When just getting into trucking, I knew a couple of guys who bought fancy Ford Louisvilles right off the bat with lots of options. Mid-1970s I think it was. Within a year those guys couldn’t make the payments and had turned in the keys. In that same era, another friend of mine, Ron Kimber from Holland Landing, got into trucking with a passion. I met him while he was working for an auto parts distributor and he got me my first trucking job. Once he got into trucking he never looked back. The first truck was soon followed by truck after truck after truck, a lot of used stuff, as I recall. Last time I saw him, he had a fleet and had some contracts running into Quebec. I don’t know what happened to this guy, but I expect he’s still trucking somewhere. ——
Years later I was working for a carrier in St. Thomas that was primarily into auto parts. They encouraged company drivers to go into partnership and had a lease to own deal that involved a more updated Ford or International with an add on sleeper that was installed in Port Stanley. Those guys had some regular runs to places like Kenosha or Toledo, but the work soon dried up as a recession took hold in the late 80s. Those drivers are probably scattered all over the industry.
Years later I was offered a truck and route at a major bread company, but turned that down too. I’ve never had any desire to fix a truck on weekends, and probably never will. But the guys who bought in were given pretty good Macks to start out and the rates were decent- a good mileage rate and generous drop charges. Some guys hired a driver and sat at home collecting a stipend. Most of those guys had new SUVs the next year, that they leased as “company vehicles” for their new business for tax purposes.
I think it’s always been a case of your haves and havenots in the owner operator business. Some guys can make money, and some can’t. You hear a lot of grouching about how no one is making money these days owning their own equipment, “you used to be able to make a good living, but you can’t anymore” followed by a number of reasons (regulations, cheap rates, foreigners in the business, etc) . But I did notice at Fergus this year, there were less owner ops and many of the show trucks were company vehicles, albeit with a dedicated driver attached who was busy polishing the rims. Maybe most of them were out working, but I have heard that O/Os are hard to find, with some of the steadfast ol’ boys hanging up their shingles recently with no good replacements in sight. And O/Os prefer dedicated runs with lots of miles and those are getting scarce, at least in the automotive industry. “No one wants to work,” according to one fleet manage who says he has jobs but no takers.
But the single truck owners I talked at Fergus said they were doing all right. There’s Cliff King with his ridiculously festooned 2014 Peterbilt 386, with every gadget you can imagine installed inside and outside of his 110″ bunk (it includes an outdoor entertainment unit, along with three tvs, soft water system, full size shower, and electronics too numerous to mention). He had just returned from Middle America Truck Show where he’d garnered the most technologically advanced sleeper award. But Cliff, president and sole owner and operator of Castle Rock Transportation, has a great employer, Verge Furniture Logistics, who owns the equally resplendent 53 foot trailer that Cliff pulls to California and back twice a month. Cliff is clearly doing alright as every year he returns to the truck show circuit with something even crazier. “I used to have four trucks, but at one time I decided I might as well have the biggest, baddest truck around, so that’s what I did.”
Then there’s Mike Reinders, who’s got the shiniest LoneStar in Acton, Ont., and presently got it on with Doyle Transportation of Guelph. Another good employer according to Reinders. He’s running weekly short multi-drop dry van LTL loads to nearby States and getting a percentage of his remuneration in US funds. Maybe that’s the answer, getting paid in greenbacks.
Working for a good carrier or private fleet certainly helps. But Reinders thinks that anyone with a compulsion to become an owner operator should do it. “You can still make money at this, not matter what they say. If your heart is in it, I say go for it.
What do you think, is there a future in owning your own truck, is it worth it?
Harry Rudolfs has worked as a dishwasher, apprentice mechanic, editor, trucker, foreign correspondent and taxi driver. He's written hundreds of articles for North American and European journals and newspapers, including features for the Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Life and CBC radio.
With over 30 years experience in the trucking industry he's hauled cars, steel, lumber, chemicals, auto parts and general freight as well as B-trains. He holds an honours BA in creative writing and humanities, summa cum laude. All posts by Harry Rudolfs