Vocational trucks have always been rather spartan, but many operations are realizing the value of upgrading trucks with creature comforts. With skilled drivers in short supply, a heavy emphasis is being placed on attracting veteran drivers and retaining current ones.
It can be hard to track a return on investment in upgraded features, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Consider the cost of replacing a driver who leaves to work for someone with a newer and more highly spec’d truck fleet. “It is basically going to cost you in excess of $1,000 to hire a driver,” says Randy Goecke, maintenance manager, Rinker Materials.
Rinker runs a fleet of 58 dump trucks in the Portland region, and another 60 mixer trucks. These are primarily Freightliner FLD SD models. All of these trucks have been spec’d with operator comfort in mind. “If a driver is comfortable, he is going to fatigue slower,” says Goecke. “By reducing driver fatigue, they are much safer and more productive.”
Rinker has a particular interest in retaining its dump truck drivers. “About half of our trucks are transfers,” says Goecke. “A little over 25% of them are trucks and pups. A little less than 25% of them are belly dumps.” It takes a fairly skilled operator to drive a transfer dump. “Very seldom do you find one who is trained and has any sort of a background. We usually train them ourselves. We bring a driver in who has a lot of [general dump truck] experience and put them through a pretty extensive training program. We want to keep them, that is for sure.” To that end, the dump trucks are pretty much loaded with A/C, AM/FM and tilt and telescoping steering wheels.
Traditionally, the dump trucks were spec’d with more creature comforts than the mixer trucks due to the time spent in the cabs.
“The dump truck fleet will run an average of about 300 miles a day,” says Goecke. “A mixer, if they run 100 miles a day that’s a lot. There is a lot more windshield time in the cab as opposed to a mixer driver.” But recently, the emphasis on creature comforts has trickled into the mixer specs.
Now all of the trucks in the Rinker fleet are spec’d with air conditioning. A few years ago, this was unheard of. “It was an issue of saving weight and cost up front,” says Goecke. But now it is becoming more common. “It became another benefit to attract drivers to us vs. our competitors.”
Rinker even spent the money to convert its 1997 and 1998 models to A/C, despite the approximately $3,500 it cost for this option. “The reduction of fatigue dramatically improves safety and increases productivity,” Goecke says. “It is a major player in driver retention and being able to hire experienced drivers.”
In addition to cruise control and tilt and telescoping wheels, Rinker began spec’ing Allison automatic six-speed transmissions in mixer trucks two years ago. “The key issue was reducing driver fatigue,” says Goecke. But the automatic transmissions also increased productivity.
Rinker publishes a corporate spec guide for all of its divisions to follow. There are a few variations geographically, but the specs are very similar. “Image is big,” says Goecke. “We do spec a few cosmetic items. If it is a safety or comfort option, we look fairly hard at it. If it is a cosmetic-related option, we scrutinize that in a lot more depth.” All of these options help Rinker retain its drivers.
Drivers pick their own options
Catom Trucking, Geneva, IL, has been in business for 27 years. It offers a unique approach to spec’ing the Kenworth W900 long hood models used in its heavy-haul business. The basic drivetrain is spec’d by the company. “The last five had 625-hp Caterpillar engines,” says Tom Stellman, owner. In addition, they all feature the Eaton-Fuller clutch and Fuller Roadranger 18-speed transmission. “We have 46,000-lb. rear axles because we are a heavy hauler.” Two-speed rear ends allow a 3.70 ratio on the road and a 5.05 ratio off road. The exterior of the trucks are black and chrome.