PETERBOROUGH, Ont. - I've been driving aimlessly up and down a country road in Peterborough this afternoon, trying in vain to find the address where my interview will take place. It's a trucking compa...
BEST OF BOTH WORLDS: Making the move from farming to trucking was a logical step for Zeitranz Trucking president Juergen Zischler, who has had a love for heavy equipment since childhood.Photo by Adam Ledlow
PETERBOROUGH, Ont. – I’ve been driving aimlessly up and down a country road in Peterborough this afternoon, trying in vain to find the address where my interview will take place. It’s a trucking company profile, so I’m looking for a standard terminal: rows of loading docks, trailers and other equipment scattered about the lot, and maybe a few trucks thrown in for good measure.
I’ve officially driven from one end of the road to the other and I’ve seen nothing but farmland the whole way. Not a truck in sight; just a few tractors and the odd cow. I call in to the company’s main line to verify the address, and find out I’m on the right road but I’ve overshot it by about a kilometre.
I backtrack up to the appropriate address and pull into the driveway where I am met by a large green barn with a pair of silos keeping watch. As I continue to make my way onto the property, I’m flanked by a group of dogs who announce my arrival as I weave up the gravel laneway to the main building. I come to a stop outside another large green building, but this one has a sign that says Zeitranz Trucking: I’m at the right place after all.
The only thing I find stranger than a trucking company found on a plot of farmland is the fact that the man who runs the company is only 26 years old: one Juergen Zischler.
But don’t let that number fool you: the numbers that really matter are those that measure the success of this young man and his young company, which has expanded from a one-truck operation to a fleet of 13 in just two short years.
The story began some 25 years ago, when Zischler and his family emigrated from their native Germany to Canada. Zischler’s father, Theodor, had always dreamed of owning a farm, but since land is scarce across most of Europe, building a decent-sized farm can be difficult. After deciding Canada would be an apt location for a dairy farm, the family spent the next several months combing the countryside before settling at their current plot in Peterborough. Over the next several years the business grew, and with Zischler, his two brothers and a sister putting in hours of hard work from an early age, a lasting love of business and a solid work ethic developed simultaneously.
Everything was smooth sailing until about six or seven years ago when the family’s dairy barn burnt to the ground.
As Zischler says, agriculture can be tough in the best of times, but losing the barn was a major setback for the business. In order to help pay off some of the farm’s bills, Zischler’s father – who had had some trucking experience in his native Germany – decided to get his A/Z licence and hit the highway.
Over time, Zischler’s father owned as many as three trucks and ran a small trucking company in addition to his labours on the farm.
Around the same time his father first hit the open road, Zischler finished hitting the books, earning his high school diploma and marrying shortly thereafter.
It was then that Zischler got his first taste of owning a business, when he and his wife decided to take over a local sign company. Though he enjoyed gaining experience over those first few years, Zischler says he lacked the passion to stay in the industry long term.
“When I ran that sign company, I enjoyed doing it, learned a lot of the aspects of customers, the retail industry, (but) it just wasn’t what was driving me,” he says.
It was then that he turned his attention to trucking. Having been a lifelong sucker for farm equipment – driving a tractor as early as age nine – trucks were a logical next step for Zischler. While still hanging on to the sign business and with the help of his father, Zischler got his A/Z licence and soon found himself on the road for a week at a time.
“Once I got into a truck, I thought, ‘This is what I want to do.'”
But after about six months of driving, Zischler found that the life of a longhaul trucker took its toll on family and might not be for him after all.
“The biggest problem was me and my wife. We had spent five years of our life together, day and night, running a business. She went back to school to get her ECE (Early Childhood Education) and that’s when I went on the road with my dad,” Zischler told Truck News.
With longhaul life taking its toll, Zischler approached a friend who was in the gravel business to find out the ups and downs of aggregate hauling, and in time, he had sold the sign business, bought his father’s truck from him, and traded it in for a Kenworth day cab before setting to work in the gravel business.
But ironically, it was a piece of bad luck that really caused the business to take off. After about a year of hauling gravel, Zischler broke his ankle while training a new driver for his father.
Having recently purchased a new truck, Zischler was forced to find a driver while he waited for his ankle to heal. But even after a driver was hired, Zischler says the numbers were still lacking in order to turn a decent profit, so he found himself buying a second truck.
His ankle was now on the mend, but the contagious feeling of expanding the business was something that couldn’t be cured. A second truck became a third, which became a fourth until Zischler found himself with 10 trucks in the operation.
Including his father’s three trucks, Zischler now manages a baker’s dozen, and he talks about having as many as 50 trucks in his fleet someday. The current fleet includes live bottom trailers, dump trailers, tri-axle dump trucks with pup trailers, flatbed trailers, hopper trailers and van trailers working in a variety of applications.
“It’s been an interesting and fast-paced two years,” Zischler says. “It’s wild because the whole trucking industry at first was helping support the farm, and now the farm’s been taken back a little bit to help me build my business too.”
At just 26 years of age, and already with a second business under his belt, Zischler may offer some hope to pessimists who lament the slow death of the trucking industry as its workforce rapidly ages.
“We don’t have a lot of younger generation people getting into this industry because, well, let’s face it: the trucking industry is probably one of the worst industries to get into. Once you purchase a truck, the resale value is nothing, so you have no equity in your company while buying anything,” Zischler said. “If it weren’t for my passion and love for the trucking industry, I definitely think I wouldn’t be doing it.”
And with Zischler’s wife currently expecting their first baby – a boy, if they have anything to say about it – that passion may find its way to future generations yet, so long as hard work, determination and solid family values are still found at the passion’s core.