Archive for October, 2014

The Highway Angel (A Halloween Tale)

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The highway patrol car put on its lights and pulled over to the side off Interstate 44 near Tulsa.  A fall cold front was tearing through Eastern Oklahoma.  The patrolmen were dispatched to a turn in the highway that was notorious for bad wrecks.  The wind was blowing hard and the windshield wipers were working furiously.  As Sergeant Shenahan was setting up the speed gun, the new officer, Baker, looked out the window at the rain swept median.  He saw five roadside memorials, of different ages, sizes and states of care, but the one that drew his attention was the smallest, a little white cross.  Hanging on the top was a small hoop, wrapped in gold glitter that looked like a halo.  On the ground near the cross was a small soaked, faded Teddy Bear, which had a curious, happy smile.

“This must really be dead man’s curve,” he remarked.  Sergeant Shenahan looked over at the young trainee, and said, “This is a place of many tragedies and many stories.”  “Is that a halo?” Baker asked.  The old sergeant smiled and said, “Have you heard of the Highway Angel?”  “They talked about that in training on Halloween, but I just thought that was a ghost story,” he responded.  “Well, my young friend, it is true.  You see, Highway Angel was the call handle of an old trucker.  He ran a bright yellow W-9 Kenworth with the words, ‘Highway Angel’ on the side topped by a halo.  We found his rig over there below the bridge 5 years ago.  Apparently, he came around the curve in heavy traffic in a storm, very much like this one.  He had a fatal heart attack while driving, but rather than crash into traffic, he was able to steer his rig off the road into that creek before he died.”

The terror she felt had never been greater…not even close.  She had hugged Katy as she packed her off to first grade just 8 hours ago.  As she waited for her to walk home from school that afternoon, the fear grew as the minutes passed.  After 45 minutes, she had called the police.  It was only 6 blocks to school and a nice neighborhood.  She knew that these things happened, but never dreamed it would happen to her Katy.  The police interviewed the children who were walking home from school with her and discovered that a white male, about age 35, with long hair and a beard had pulled up in an old red van, grabbed Katy, threw her in, and speed off towards the interstate.  She cried hysterically as she looked out the window into the storm from the police station waiting room.

John was 15 miles from his delivery destination in Tulsa with 30 minutes until his appointment time.  He had picked up his load in Atlanta two days ago, and figured he would have plenty of time to deliver.  However, the load started with the customer taking 6 hours to load his trailer.  Now John was into the crescendo of Atlanta rush hour traffic that put him 2 more hours behind.  He knew he would be driving hard from here on. He notified his dispatcher that when he accepted the load, he had plenty of time until delivery, but now it was going to be tight.  His dispatcher responded, “Just keep us updated.”

48 hours later, his tired eyes were straining to see through the rain as he moved down the interstate at a slow 50 mph.  From years of driving he knew that he had to be alert and careful…dead man’s curve was only ten miles up the road.  “Yes, it’s going to be tight,” he thought to himself.  Suddenly, he was passed by a red Ford van, doing 80 through the driving rain.  “Fool,” he thought, “as if we didn’t have enough problems out on the road.”  Then John heard a beep on his Quailcom.  He looked down and saw this message.

An AMBER alert 7961 has been received from NCMEC.

DATE –    Oct 30 11:18:04

TEXT –    AMBR ALRT:Tulsa OK VEH:99 Dk red Ford Econoline van TAG:TX BZ9L220 CHILD:8YOB/F 4’1 85 Bro/Blk SUSP:35YO W/M 6’1 250 Hair: Long Dark Beard CALL 7133083600

He shifted gears into the big hole and hit the accelerator.  “Yes, 911, I spotted your suspect, 10 miles west of Tulsa, driving about 80 and headed into dead man’s curve.”  “Stand By,” said the 911 dispatcher as she put the alert out.  Police cars from throughout the area were now speeding through the storm to dead man’s curve.

As John’s rig gained speed, he realized that it was going to be impossible to catch up with the red van.  Things were getting dangerous as the rain hit the windshield and he approached dead man’s curve.  Suddenly, he noticed the brake lights of the red van. It was swerving back and forth trying to get around another tractor-trailer that was blocking its way.  He couldn’t believe it.  The other rig was slowing the van down.

Officer Baker was just about to doze off when he heard Sergeant Shenahan’s gruff voice, “Look alive, we have a kidnapper in a red Ford van headed this way fast with an 8 year old girl as hostage.”  He looked out and saw a big yellow W-9 heading toward them, with a red van behind, desperately trying to pass.

Katy screamed in the back of the van as she hugged her Teddy bear.  She was tossed back and forth as the van shifted.  “Shut up,” said the man, “or this will go much worse for you.”  She bit her lip until it bled and hugged Teddy harder.  To her surprise, Katy felt someone hold her hand gently and put an arm around her.  This was not the mean man who grabbed her and hit her.  This was an older man with a kind smile.  “Don’t worry, Katy,” he said.  This was a nice man.  “Where did he come from?” Katy wondered.

Up ahead, John saw police lights stab their red swords through the rain.  He slowed down and kept his eye on the van.  As the van approach the curve he saw it losing control, careening sideways down the interstate.  The van went into the ditch, flipped and tumbled down toward the creek.  The other rig pulled over to the side of the road.  John pulled over, looked through the rain and exhaust and saw a yellow, W-9 Kenworth, which had a logo, “Highway Angel” on its doors with what looked like a halo.

Officer Shenahan and Baker drew their side arms and ran out of the car and down to the now burning red van sitting on its back.  “Not good,” said Baker, as he looked through the windows of the wreck.  But when he looked up, the Sergeant was smiling and pointing under the bridge.  There was Katy, dry as a bone, wrapped in a blanket and clutching her Teddy bear.  When he turned around towards the highway, there was only one rig parked by the side of the road.  The yellow KW was nowhere to be seen.

 

Copy write 2010, Tom Kretsinger, Jr.

The Other National Holiday (part 1 of 5)

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Luke was 10 years, one month, one week and 2 days old.  He saw his Dad last month, one week and 2 days ago on his birthday.  Dad is a truck driver.  Time moves slowly when you are 10 years, one month, one week and two days of age.  It seemed like an eternity since Dad had been home.  But what a great birthday it was!  Luke would never forget the excitement of the weekend.  Dad told him he wasn’t allowed to have a gun until he was ten.

For the past two years, while Dad was on the road, Luke practiced shooting with his Daisy Red Rider BB gun in the woods out back of the house.  Mom didn’t like this, but gave up a couple years ago.  Luke had been admonished to “Be Safe!” more times than he could remember.  He found an area for target practice which had nothing behind it for miles.  He made a target range made of an old sheet of plywood tied to a couple of metal fence posts.  Over this, he stapled a Styrofoam insulation board.  This was very functional as he could staple the targets he made onto the foam.  He had carefully stepped off 10 feet, 20 feet and thirty feet and marked the distances with some old bricks he found.

His Dad taught him gun safety.  Dad was an expert rifleman in the Marines before Luke was born.  He listened carefully and remembered all the lessons.  Luke always checked the area before practicing to make sure no one was around.  Even though he only had a BB gun he treated it like a real one.  Dad told him that a real bullet’s trajectory would go five miles.  Luke was always careful to check the safety, and be aware of the direction of the barrel.  He learned to shoot in the military positions; standing, sitting and prone.  He knew how to hold the gun, left elbow directly under the stock and right elbow perpendicular to the ground to ensure a straight and smooth trigger pull.  He had learned to slow his breathing, so his heart wouldn’t bump the bullet off target when pulling the trigger.

Last time Dad was home, he woke Luke early.  They went to Hunter Safety course.  After a full day of learning, Luke passed his test and earned his Hunter Safety certificate.  It was good for life.  Luke proudly showed off the card he kept in his wallet at school.  He sewed the orange Hunter Safety patch they gave him on the front of his camouflage cap.  That evening, after dinner and a birthday cake accompanied by the “Happy Birthday” song, Dad presented Luke with a long rectangular box disguised in wrapping paper and a big bow.  Luke felt the solid weight in the box as Dad handed it to him.  Mom captured the biggest smile she had ever seen on a child, and a father, on camera as Luke tore open the box to find a Marlin 30-30.  The next day, Dad showed Luke how to take the gun apart, clean it, and put it back together.  Luke practiced over and over.  This was a real gun.  There would be no target practice without Dad.  Before Dad climbed in his truck the next day and left again, he found time to take Luke out to the shooting range to practice target shooting the new gun.  Since then, it remained locked in the gun safe.  How hard it is to obtain such a prize and not be able to touch it for one month, one week and two days while Dad was on the road.  But rules about guns cannot be broken…ever!

Luke’s older brothers, Matt and Mark, didn’t care about hunting or guns.  All they cared about were girls and cars.  At 10 years, 1 month, 1 week and 2 days, Luke thought girls were gross.  His sister Lilly liked dance and cheerleading.  His younger brother, John, wanted to tag along, but he was too little to be around when Luke was shooting.

Luke liked the outdoors and the woods.  He fished the pond out back after school and proudly brought his catch to Mom for dinner.  He advanced to shooting hedge apples, birds and squirrels in the woods out back with his Daisy Red Rider.

“1 month, 1 week and 2 days,” Pat thought as he delivered his last load before he would head home.  That’s a long time to be away from the family, but he had a good month.  Miles were good and he averaged 8.5 miles per gallon.  He earned enough to take a well-deserved week off with the family before heading out on the road again.  He missed his wife and kids and the solitude of his home in the Tennessee hills.  But time goes by fast when you are older and driving throughout the country.  The weeks and miles seemed to accelerate faster with each year.  His children were growing up fast.  As he was backed to the loading dock waiting to be unloaded, he browsed the pictures on his Iphone.  The one of Luke smiling as he opened his birthday present was special.

It took an unbelievable six hours for them to finally get his trailer unloaded.  He climbed in the truck, started it up and pulled out on the highway towards home.  On the way, though, there would be a delay.  He slowed his truck and stopped behind a lady on the side of the road with a flat tire.  He texted his wife, climbed down and rolled up his sleeves.

Luke was ready.  He had washed his hunting clothes in scent free soap and hung them on the clothesline out back to dry.  After school, he put on his rubber boots and walked three miles to the deer stand.  He checked it carefully to make sure it was solid.  He looked at the salt lick about 50 yards away.  It was muddy around the salt block from activity.  His heart beat faster as he noticed fresh tracks in the mud.  On the way back to the stand, he noticed a pine tree trunk, about 5 inches in diameter, was shaved clean by antlers.  About another 100 yards from the stand he found scat and fresh scrapes in the fallen leaves.  This would be a good place to get his first deer.  He was careful not to touch anything.  He didn’t want to leave his scent in the area which might scare the deer.  The leaves on the ground were dappled by the sunlight coming through the oak trees which still held on to their dying leaves.  Birds were chirping and squirrels were playing noisily in the fallen leaves.  He smiled as he thought of one of his Dad’s favorite sayings, “Sometimes… even a blind squirrel can find a nut.”

He was disappointed when he returned home.  It was just turning from dusk to night.  Dad was not home yet.  “Where is Dad?” he asked softly.  The old creeping fear of Dad not making it home was entering his thoughts.  “Don’t worry,” Mom replied.  “He was late getting unloaded at the docks.  On the way home he stopped to help a lady with a flat tire.  You need to get ready and go to bed.  You guys are getting up early, 4 in the morning, as I remember.  Dad will get home tonight when you’re asleep.”  Luke was disappointed but he was also proud that Dad always stopped to help others.  He didn’t care if the bullies at school teased him that his father was just a truck driver.  Luke was called into the principal’s office for a meeting two weeks ago.  The reason?  He put his fist in the nose of one of the bullies.  He got in a lot of trouble at school and more at home.  He was grounded by Mom with extra homework for a week.  It hurt when he had to sit down every night to work while his brothers and sisters when outside on the beautiful fall days to play, but the bully never said anything bad about his Dad again.

Yes, it would be an early morning.  Mom was right.  Luke went outside, took his hunting clothes off the line and put them in a Rubbermaid container so they would not catch the scents in the house.  He had dinner, and then went upstairs and took a shower with scent free soap.  Luke had read a lot about hunting in his Dad’s Field and Stream magazines, and was determined to give himself the best advantages he could tomorrow.  He lay down in his bed at 9, trying to fight off the excited thoughts twirling in his mind.  He knew he need to get some sleep.  But it was impossible.

 

Follow this five part blog next week for part 2!

Copyright 2012, Tom Kretsinger, Jr.

Pay

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The old saying about keeping drivers happy is “get them miles, get them paid and get them home!”  This is something we work hard on every day.  In the one way truckload world, this can be a challenge but I think we’re pretty dang good at it.

I saw a survey recently that rated “pay” as the number one thing that attracts drivers to a company.  Our philosophy at ACT for as long as I have been here (which is quite a while) is that ACT offers top pay rates in the trucking industry for drivers.  Why?  We, at ACT have always prided ourselves on being legal, being one of the safest carriers, and having the best customer service.  We feel that in order to do this, we need to hire the best drivers in the industry.  If you want to hire the best, you must pay the best.  Even though we pay more for drivers than other trucking companies, we feel that in the long run, it actually costs us less…Why?  Because by hiring the best, we obtain the best in safety and service, miles and mpg.  This saves money.  The circle is completed when we are able to offer the highest pay due to the savings.  Make sense?  We think so.

When I talk about pay, I’m not talking about sign on bonuses, although we offer these as well.  I’m talking about the long haul, the big picture!  In our competitive business, many companies offer sign on bonuses.  But read the fine print.  Very few actually pay them.  The big picture you should focus on is the total compensation package.  Let’s talk about ACT’s…

For owner operators, we pay $1.03 per mile if you have a hazmat endorsement, $ .97 if you don’t for loaded miles and $.90 for empty miles (less than 5% of our freight is hazmat, but we pay the premium on all loaded miles).  We also pay a very generous fuel surcharge on all miles.  A fuel surcharge is intended to help pay for some of your fuel and deal with fluctuations in fuel prices.  Many of our contractors have figured out that if they buy fuel right and get good mpg, they can actually make money on our fuel surcharge. We also pay on to contractors 100% of the fuel discounts we get at the pump….and ours are pretty sweet!  If you choose to use our fuel network, those savings are yours!  It can add up to quite a bit of money.  This year it averages almost $ .28 cents per gallon.  Fuel is an independent contractor’s largest expense by far.  If you ran 120,000 miles per year, hit our fleet average of 7.5 mpg and used our fuel network, you would save another $ 4500 per year on fuel.  At ACT playing the fuel game right can make you a whole lot of money.

There are some other items that ACT offers that may get overlooked.  We pay for things other than miles.  For example, after two hours we will pay detention….whether we get the money from the shipper or not!  We pay for time taking a trailer for repair. And the products we offer to contractors, such as physical damage insurance, occupational accident insurance, legal protection insurance and others are very competitively priced.  We pay for QUALCOMM’s.  Our parts and service for work done in our shop are priced way below what you would pay on the road.

Do the math… add it up, and I think you will find that no dry van truckload carrier pays a higher rate than ACT!  Of this we are confident!

Company drivers get top industry pay as well.  Our company drivers can earn up to $ .46 per mile if their performance is good.  What are the performance factors?  It is the things we are about….safety, service, legal compliance and we recognize that some employees work harder than others.  We see this in miles.  We believe that hard workers should be paid more…not treated the same as other who don’t work as hard.  We also reward those who save the company money by getting good mpg and fueling at the cheapest fuel stops on route.  Those drivers produce savings, and we are more than happy to pay them more for their efforts.

Look at our benefits packages and compare those to other carriers.  Other carriers offer drivers a skinnied down medical plan which is not the same as insurance given to office employees and doesn’t cover as much.  At ACT, our drivers are offered the same plans as those in the office.  We offer health, dental, vision, disability, both long and short term, 401k (where we match your contribution up to 4% of your pay) and legal insurance.  No one in the dry van space offers better benefits than ACT!

For both company drivers and contractors we offer the opportunity to make additional money as a recruiter.  Why?  Because our drivers can tell others better than anyone what it is like at ACT.  In keeping with our philosophy, we’d much rather pay our drivers to help us than pay ads in a recruiting magazine.

And last, but not least…we have more freight that we know what to do with!

I know drivers have a lot of aggressive recruiters calling.  They are often incentivized by the numbers they bring in.  Some are pretty aggressive in sugar coating things.  Take your time, do your homework, sharpen your pencil and you will find that no over the road dry van carrier offers a higher compensation opportunity than ACT…..NOBODY!  It has always been that way…and it always will be.

Happy Trucking!  ~ Tom

Family

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“Caring, committing, communicating and appreciating…. We care for each other and strive to maintain an environment that is positive and that encourages open communication where everyone is heard and valued.  We understand and value the importance of work, a healthy family life, and fun.”

ACT is a family owned company.  The Kretsingers’ are a large family and I am the oldest of eight.  My brothers, Bob and Bill, have worked here since the early 1980’s.  We have decades of family experience, so when I talk of family, I know something of the subject.

There is something about a family company that is different from a company owned by investors, a private equity fund or one owned by stockholders on Wall Street. If you follow the street, you will soon learn that everything is focused on the next quarter’s results.  This can lead to some very strong financial discipline, but it also leads to some very short term thinking, often at the expense of people and the long term well-being of the company.  If you know anything about some of the mega-sized trucking companies, they are all about numbers.  If you have ever worked at one of the mega-sized companies, you may have found yourself scratching your head, trying to make sense of the most recent decisions.  Numbers are important, but people are also important.  We are a service business.  Our service comes from people.  Without good people, we are nothing.  Many overlook this.

Family companies have a longer horizon. In drastic contrast, family thinking is long term, often to the next generation of family and the next generation of team members.  As we all know, family is one of those things that can get under our skin like nothing else, but it is also the thing that endures with commitment through the generations.  We have seen that in our family.  We believe that family is important.  You have a job to support your number one priority, your family…you don’t have a family simply to support your job.  Family is the most important thing in life.  It’s also an economic unit and economic success depends on the success of the family.  In the difficult profession of trucking, it is hard to maintain a balance and we all, office folks and drivers, need to remember priorities…family is number one.

In many ways, the team here at ACT is also a family, and we function much better as a family than some uncaring mercenary force. We do need to perform and produce, like any business, but we can do it in an atmosphere where we communicate, explain the reasoning behind what we are doing and care when someone falls down.  You’ll always find a friendly family Midwestern greeting when you walk in our doors.  It is one of the things that make us different….and better.

What are some of the benefits of a “family” culture? You’re collaborating with people you trust and care about and who care about you. This can be a very nurturing environment, and it gives all team members more self-confidence. We understand we’re all in this together, and are working toward a common goal. A family-run company may have a more relaxed environment and this is pleasant for non-family members too.

It is easier to make big decisions in a family-run company and people are more willing to explain the reasons behind a decision. Instead of having to wade through multiple layers of bureaucracy, which are common in larger organizations, family-run businesses are often more flexible and can make needed changes nimbly. It is easier for good employees to make an impact in a family culture instead of being burdened down by corporate bureaucracy.

When a family runs a company, the desire to keep things profitable and stable for future generations is usually very strong as it is here. We’ve been through hard times and good times together and we know how to succeed in this business. We’ve been doing this a long time and we’re in for the long haul.

Safe and Happy Trucking! Tom

 

 

 

Safety

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Safety

One of ACT’s long standing core values is safety.  What is safety?  Safety is when nothing happens!  ACT has a tradition of being one of the industry leaders when it comes to safety.  All of our CSA scores are way below the “alert” threshold.  In our insurance captive group, we always score near the top on our annual audits out of over 60 carriers.  We have been recognized by the State of Missouri and by the Missouri Trucking Association as one of their safest carriers.  For two years in a row, we have won the safety award by the nation’s largest trucking trade association, the American Trucking Association.  Safety has historically been embedded in our culture at ACT.  Even back in the 90’s, we won Liberty Mutual’s safety awards each year.  This is nothing new at ACT.  But it is very important and something we always strive to improve.

What makes us safer than others?  It is not one thing, but a combination of things.  The message on safety comes from the top, not just the safety department.  The entire leadership of the company is fully bought in, vested and committed to safety.  We also have operations on board, something many trucking companies don’t do. Operations work closely with our safety department in trying to improve safety and prevent accidents every day.   In sum, we are all singing from the same hymn book.  Anyone who can’t operate within this culture is at the wrong company.

Safety means more than just complying with laws and regulations, a “no brainer” at ACT.  It means going above and beyond compliance.  Who knows whether or not our driver is safe at any given time?  We have many things we work on but in the final analysis, no one knows better than the driver.  For this reason, our stance has long been that at any time a driver, for whatever reason, feels him or herself to be unsafe, (whether or not they are in compliance with regulations), whether that results from illness, fatigue, weather, traffic, stress, problems at home or any other reason, that driver has the responsibility and authority to pull over, stop driving, and notify us of his or her situation.  We will not second guess, overrule or retaliate in any way against that driver for his or her decision.  There are no exceptions.  I give instructions to all drivers that if anyone here counteracts this policy to come to me directly and I will deal with it.

The pay we offer drivers is the top pay in the industry.  Why?  We hire the best drivers with the best records.  Our standards are high.  Not only are the standards high to become an ACT driver, but all drivers must maintain that high standard to remain with the company.

This is not all we do to become safer.  We always try to become safer and always will.  We know that cell phones are presenting an ever increasing danger as passenger vehicles are more and more distracted as they share the road with us.  We explore technology to find ways to improve and we believe that no matter how good we are, we can always get better.  Even the most experienced and safe drivers can improve through ongoing training and coaching.  Our culture is one of continuous improvement and learning.

All know that being safe is a very important core value at ACT.  We welcome those who share this value.

Safe Trucking!  ~Tom