STEVE RUSH, president of Carbon Express Inc, always watches for opportunities to hone operations and expand service. Early on, the Wharton, New Jersey, fleet operator recognized the value of satellite tracking devices, and soon his tractors were equipped with them. More recently, he began operating three TankVans with bulk liquids convertible tanks. Today, he is one of a handful to haul chemicals along the New York Thruway using turnpike doubles trains that weigh in at 143,000 pounds.

"Two full 43-foot semi-tank trailers in tandem pulling 143,00 pounds gross weight is not a common scene on our highways, but it could become commonplace in the near future, considering the trucking industry's collective driver shortage," says Rush.

"This is a better way to transport cargo and help the bottom line at the same time. The tank truck industry has not looked hard at the value of pulling doubles, and that is a shame. Revenue is up significantly since we began pulling the long doubles, over a year and a half ago. We feel the numbers will continue to improve. We are in negotiations with several other carriers to pull their trailers behind ours."

Turnpike doubles are effective for maximizing higher gross weights in New York state. Rush has further enhanced the fleet by specifying airride trailers, which allow the company to standardize its fleet with all rear unloading equipment. The airride offers a nine-inch pitch to the rear, keeping heel to the minimum.

In other ways to enhance operations, Rush is keeping his eye on the prospect of bottom loading chemicals, a procedure being adopted more and more in the industry.

"We are doing some bottom loading," he says. While the closed-loop loading has been used by gasoline haulers for some time, it has not made significant inroads in the chemical industry, to date. Safety is one of the reasons carriers and shippers are examining the bottom-loading procedure - it keeps drivers off the top of the tank trailer, which Rush endorses. For now, however, most chemicals are toploaded at Carbon Express.

To protect his drivers on top of the trailers, Rush has specified that all new trailers be equipped with catwalks mounted at two o'clock on the side, an arrangement that eliminates the need for drivers to bend over while working on the top. "We think this greatly reduces the risk of falls," Rush says.

Another adaptation occurring in the Carbon Express trailer fleet is vapor recovery. All new trailers are being ordered with vapor recovery systems in order to ameliorate environmental concerns.

Rush Logistics Understanding the importance of transportation efficiency prompted Rush to form a subsidiary, Rush Logistics, in 1987. In addition to handling Carbon Express logistics, the subsidiary specializes in putting chemical shippers and carriers together in order to move products expeditiously. Rush Logistics can step in and coordinate total product movement from shipper to customer. In addition, the division helps out its parent company when the need arises. As a carrier, Rush says he recognizes the needs of both parties, and how to best get the job done.

All of this began in 1971 when Rush became an owner-operator, driving a Brockway tractor. In 1983 he purchased a 1962 Fruehauf tank trailer and began hauling ink for a local company, Moore Business Forms.

"Our first haul was carbon ink," he says. "I was looking for a distinguishable logo to put on our tanks, so when I thought about it, I decided to use a diamond as an example of purity and durability." The logo continues to distinguish company vehicles.

Carbon Express continues to expand today. It hauls various chemical products across the United States and into Canada and Mexico. This year, revenues in the United States and Canada are up significantly, says Rush.

The growth has stimulated a need for more drivers. Like most carriers, Carbon Express has suffered from the ongoing driver shortage but has not lowered its requirements for applicants. Not only do new drivers have to be at least 25 years old, they must have tank trailer experience. Training typically requires six months and includes classroom instruction on policies, Department of Transportation regulations, defensive driving, and hazardous materials handling.

Once on board, drivers encounter a team atmosphere companywide, says Rush. If no drivers leave the company in the course of a year, all of them receive a bonus of a week's pay. This encourages a team effort with drivers working together to improve the retention record. When drivers do leave, they go through an exit interview as part of the company's effort to discover how to improve its retention rate.

Part of the operational strategy is to maintain a young fleet. The average age of the 23 Mack tractors is 1.78 years. Tractors are traded every three years or at 350,000 miles. Five new ones were purchased this year already and another nine are on order. All are specified with Qualcomm satellite tracking and communication systems.

"We have found the Qualcomm System to be more valuable than just for communication and tracking," says Sean McAllister, operations manager. "We are currently feeding load status reports directly to our computerized dispatch system. We capture tractor odometer readings for our maintenance system and hours-of-service records that keep the dispatch office informed of each driver's available hours.

"In the past, drivers were required to call in several times a day to check with dispatch. This has been eliminated, allowing our drivers to be more efficient and virtually eliminates telephone calls to the dispatcher. Dispatchers now have more time to thoroughly analyze the available options. As a result, they make better decisions. The constant communication link between the office and the drivers has helped us find a better way to do our job."

Vehicle Specifications The 460-horsepower Mack CH tractors are equipped with Fuller 10-speed transmissions. One tractor with a 10-speed Fuller automatic transmission has been added to the fleet. "I've been hearing a lot of good things about the automatic transmissions, and our drivers are anxious for us to order more," says Rush.

The tractors have a 12,000-pound Mack steering axle and 40,000-pound Eaton tandem drive axle with a 3.70 ratio. Mack's AL-401 air-ride suspension is standard for Carbon Express. Roper PTO-driven pumps are mounted on the tractors. Bendix supplies the air compressor. Steel-belted radial tires are from Michelin.

There are 47 tank trailers and three TankVans in the fleet. The trailer fleet is continually updated, and the average age is 2.30 years. Newest trailers are from Polar Tank Trailer Inc. The fleet also includes seven fiberglass-reinforced-plastic trailers from Comptank.

The Polar DOT407 stainless steel trailers range in capacity from 6,700 gallons to 7,000 gallons. Betts supplies four-inch hydraulic internal valves and stem-jacketed external valves. Betts also provides the three-inch hydraulic vapor recovery equipment that is piped to the rear of the trailer. Pressure-relief and vacuum-breaker systems are from Girard. Trailer running gear includes Neway air-ride suspension, Carlisle brakes, and Meritor axles.

One 1999 DOT407 stainless steel triaxle trailer is from Nova. The 7,500-gallon trailer has Betts valves, Civacon vapor recovery system, and Girard pressure-relief vents. Hendrickson supplies the suspension, and Meritor provides axles.

"The triaxle enables us to haul net weights in excess of 65,000 pounds," says Rush. "In some cases, we are able to haul net weights of 73,000 pounds."

Two Stainless Tank & Equipment 7,500-gallon triaxle trailers are in the fleet. The DOT407 tank trailers have Betts valves, Civacon vapor recovery, and Girard pressure-relief and vacuum breakers.

Seven Comptank 5,600-gallon tank trailers are made of Derekane material and have Chemline air-operated bottom valves, unloading valves, and butterfly external valves. Pressure-relief vents are from Girard.

Running gear includes Neway air-ride suspension, Carlisle brakes, and Meritor axles.

The TankVans are equipped with collapsible composite tanks, each holding 1,800 gallons, for a total of 5,400-gallon capacity. The trailers are dedicated to one customer for water treatment products. Empty tanks can be retracted into the van ceiling in less than eight minutes. Each tank has Betts stainless steel internal and external valves. Loading/unloading components are mounted at the curb side of the van.

Attracting Attention Rush points out that the TankVan trailers attract a lot of attention from tank trailer drivers, who spot the liquid bulk equipment on the van. "They are always asking our drivers about it," he says. "They don't often see a van like this."

While Rush operates a young fleet, he also emphasizes the importance of preventive maintenance. A two-bay shop at the Wharton terminal takes care of tractors and trailers. The preventive maintenance program begins with a tractor inspection and chassis lube at 10,000-mile intervals. Engine oil and filter are changed at 20,000 miles. Because the tractors are young, they remain under warranty. Major maintenance is conducted by Mack dealers.

Trailers are inspected and serviced on the same schedule as the tractors. For major repairs, the trailers are sent to outside vendors. All units receive a thorough pretrip inspection by mechanics. Carbon Express utilizes several tank cleaning facilities throughout its area. Because the trailers are dedicated, they require fewer cleanings. When they are cleaned, the cleaning facilities use the self-contained spinner systems that are installed in the collapsible tanks.

Maintenance is just one more priority at Carbon Express that insures the company will be able to provide excellent customer service. Combine that with new fleet equipment and Rush's emphasis on finding a better way, the carrier is poised to meet new opportunities as they arise.