FOR MANY people, spring means balmy days, warm rain showers, and wild flowers covering the countryside. It also means the beginning of another road building season for asphalt haulers such as Reis Trucking Inc.

Based in Cleves, Ohio, Reis Trucking has been serving the road construction industry for most of its 57 years in business. With its 80 tank trailers, the regional carrier specializes in transporting asphalts and asphalt products, pitch products, and heavy fuel oils.

“We've succeeded and we've grown by providing our customers with exceptional service,” says Paul Reis, owner of Reis Trucking. “We do that with veteran drivers, who are assigned to reliable, well-maintained, late-model tractors. Our trailers are configured for maximum capacity and efficiency.

“Because of the high level of service we provide, our customers are willing to pay a little extra. We have the equipment and personnel needed to guarantee that customers will get their loads. We have spare tractors on hand for emergency loads, and several of us on the management team are qualified to drive. All of this matters because it costs a customer $2,000 to $5,000 an hour if an asphalt plant has to shut down during a paving job.”

Humble start

The commitment to customers was evident from the company's start in 1947. Founded as Reis Bros Inc in Columbus, Ohio, the company began by doing excavating and hauling coal and ice. The founding partners were Anthony and Frank Reis. Paul is Anthony's son.

It wasn't long before Reis Bros had a new neighbor next to its coal yard. American Bitumuls, a division of Standard Oil of California (Chevron), built an emulsified asphalt plant. That gave Reis Bros its entrée into the asphalt hauling business.

A fresh opportunity for Reis Bros came in 1954 when Standard Oil of California built a refinery in North Bend, a few miles west of Cincinnati on the Ohio River and close to Cleves, where Reis Trucking is now located. Anthony Reis moved his family to Cincinnati, and Reis Bros became the first and last contract carrier for the petroleum company, according to the Reis Trucking company history.

By the time Paul was 10 years old, he was being assigned odd jobs in the fleet shop during the summer. He cleaned built-up asphalt off tanks and scrubbed and painted wheels. At 12, he began parking trucks at the terminal. Dispatch work followed in high school, and he began driving trucks as soon as he was old enough for a license.

Paul joined Reis Bros Inc full time in 1979 after graduating from Miami (Ohio) University. By 1983, Paul had left Reis Bros and bought a competing asphalt hauler, which was renamed Reis Trucking Inc. When Anthony (sole owner of Reis Bros since 1985) decided to retire in 1997, father and son determined it was time to merge the two operations.

Family focus

Despite the changes, the company is just as family-focused today as when it started 57 years ago. Paul's children have begun helping out during the summer months. Most of the carrier's business remains concentrated in Ohio and focused on road construction.

“About 80% of our revenue comes from Ohio,” Paul Reis says. “We haul primarily in the tri-state region of Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. However, we deliver specialty products into and out of Michigan, West Virginia, Illinois, and Alabama.”

Asphalt is the primary cargo, but it's not the same business it was in 1954. Even the product has gone through a number of transformations. Reis Trucking has kept pace with the changes by modifying its operating procedures and fleet specifications.

“We deal with a lot more grades of asphalt, some of which are much more difficult to handle,” Reis says. “We haul five to six grades of paving asphalt, two of which are polymerized. We expect to see more polymerized asphalt because it's a better paving product.

“We try to haul the polymerized asphalt when it is 10 to 20 degrees hotter than regular paving grade asphalt. Most paving grade asphalt is transported at 300° F to 325° F, while the polymerized asphalt is shipped at 340° F to 345° F. It can't be any hotter because the polymer begins breaking down around 350° F.”

Pump time

Even at the optimum temperature, polymerized asphalt takes about 30% longer to pump off a trailer. The product also is more likely to build up on the inside of a tank trailer.

“We try to limit the build-up by rotating various asphalt products through the trailers,” Reis says. “If polymerized product does build up, not even water blasting will knock it out.”

Ambient temperatures must be above 45° F when paving work is done with polymerized asphalt, according to Ohio state highway construction rules. This means the paving season typically runs from April into December.

Most of the asphalt plants reopen around April 1, but the action isn't fully underway until May. In most years, the asphalt paving work continues until about a week before Christmas. The paving plants then shut down for the winter.

Shingle asphalt

That's not the end of the asphalt hauling, though. Reis Trucking also transports oxidized asphalt for shingles, and the shingle plants run through the winter. The oxidized asphalt shipments account for some of the longer trips.

Winter brings demand for heavy fuel oil, which is used for electric power generation and provides additional loads to keep the fleet active. A local brewer takes six loads a day of Number 6 oil, which is transported at 140° F to 160° F. A jet engine manufacturer needs eight to 10 loads a day.

Trips for heavy fuel oil and asphalt generally don't exceed 70 miles, and many are only about seven miles each way. Hauling out of asphalt terminals on the Ohio River, drivers may handle up to five loads a day during the busiest part of the paving season.

“A busy asphalt plant on a paving job can take a truckload every two hours,” Reis says. “We usually offload into storage tanks that hold 20,000 to 40,000 gallons. Loading at the terminals takes 10 to 15 minutes. Offloading takes another 25 to 35 minutes.”

The 18 company drivers at Reis Trucking are paid by the hour. Owner operators also are used extensively and are paid on a per-load basis.

“Owner-operators give us the ability to handle the wide fluctuations of activity in this business,” Reis says. “We're still getting as many owner-operators as we need. In fact, we haven't experienced any driver shortage.”

One factor ensuring a good supply of drivers is the company policy to run premium tractors that are no more than five years old. The tractors average 80,000 to 100,000 miles a year. Each company driver is permanently assigned to a tractor.

All but one of the 18 company tractors are Freightliner conventionals. The only exception is a Kenworth T800 that was purchased in 2003. “Our preference is to run a single make of tractor,” Reis says. “A key reason is that our shop is able to stock fewer parts, which saves us money.”

On the current purchasing schedule, the fleet plans to replace three tractors in 2004 and 14 in 2005. “We haven't made a final decision on make yet, but we'll probably choose from among Freightliner, Kenworth, and Peterbilt,” Reis says. “We like the corner windows on Kenworth daycabs and the KW air suspension. Freightliner has good product support and lightweight specs. Peterbilt has good lightweight specs.”

Driver comfort

Driver comfort features include extra cab insulation to cut down on noise. The tractors also have air-conditioning, air-ride cab and driver seat, and tilting/telescoping steering wheel. Daycabs predominate, but some tractors have sleepers.

Caterpillar probably will continue to be the fleet's engine supplier. “We're 100% Cat right now,” Reis says. “We're pleased with the performance of Caterpillar products. The manufacturer stands behind its products.”

The fleet has standardized on Meritor 10-speed transmissions. Aluminum components are widely used to keep the tractors as light as possible. Even aluminum crossmembers are specified if available as an option.

Most of the tractors and trailers in the fleet have Michelin tires, including one rig with Michelin's XOne XDA super single. “The XOne brought a big improvement in ride quality, and drivers like the performance,” Reis says. “We also have eight to 10 trailers with old style super singles.”

Trailer variety

The newest asphalt trailers in the fleet were built by Polar Tank Trailer Inc. Reis Trucking also runs tank trailers built by E D Etnyre & Co, Brenner Tank LLC, and Tremcar Inc.

Both carbon steel (7,000-gallon capacity) and aluminum tanks (7,500-gallon capacity) are used in the fleet. “We need the steel tanks for the higher temperature products,” Reis says.

All of the asphalt tanks are specified with five inches of fiberglass compressed to four inches, and they have aluminum jacketing. The newest trailers have stainless steel subframes for longer life.

Tank hardware includes Betts discharge outlets at the rear and OPW swivels that make it easier to connect jumper hoses to the tractor-mounted product pumps. Some of the carbon steel asphalt trailers have belly-mounted manways that make it easier to clean out product residue.

The newest trailers were specified with Revolver upper coupler assemblies that ensure better safety and handling. The Revolver upper couplers are credited with reducing steering axle push and steer tire wear.

Hendrickson's Intraax air suspension system is credited with improving barrel life on the trailers, as well as providing a more comfortable ride. “Our tanks don't get beat up as much with the Intraax suspension,” Reis says.

Truck Lite LED lighting has become standard on the Reis Trucking trailers. Other components include Alcoa aluminum wheels, Haldex automatic slack adjusters, and Meritor-WABCO antilock braking.

The equipment specifications help ensure that Reis Trucking will continue to meet the demands and challenges of serving the asphalt industry. Most importantly, the service will continue to be of the highest level.