Feb 1, 2007 12:00 PM, By Charles E Wilson
GAZING on the shiny bright red Kenworth W900 tractor, it's hard to believe that it was purchased back in 1999. It looks, and drives, like it could have come directly off a truck dealer's showroom floor.
The tractor belongs to Manweiler Transports, and it's not a special vehicle. The odometer shows 500,000 miles, much of that coming from mountain driving. This is a tractor that gets worked every day of the week just like the other 27 tractors and 35 tank trailers used by the Pueblo, Colorado-based petroleum hauler.
“Credit for vehicle appearance and performance goes to good specifications and a top-notch maintenance program,” says Merle Manweiler, president of Manweiler Transport. “We start by specifying premium equipment, and our mechanics keep the fleet in top shape. These factors make it possible for us to meet the service expectations of our customers.”
Those customers are spread across much of the western United States. In addition to Colorado, the fleet operates in Wyoming, Montana, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. It hauls 500,000 gallons of refined petroleum products daily. Products include gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.
“We haul both branded and unbranded product,” Manweiler says. “We're a distributor of unbranded gasoline and diesel. Our primary customers are in the construction, mining, and quarry sectors.
“With the increased use of ethanol as a gasoline additive, we've begun handling that product as well. We're transporting it for ADM (Archer Daniels Midland Company), using a standard petroleum trailer.”
Manweiler has been involved in fuels hauling for decades. “I spent 15 years with DSI Transports and was serving as western region manager before leaving to start my own company in 1995,” he says. “We began with three company trucks and two lease operators. We hit the ground running, and we've grown steadily. However, we want to keep the business at a size where we'll be able to know the name of every driver.”
Manweiler Transports has a family feel to it, and with good reason. The management team includes Merle's wife Sherry and their two sons Justin and Jeff. In addition, two of Merle's brothers (Kevin and Mike) work for the company.
Sherry serves as office manager at the Pueblo terminal, Justin is the terminal manager in Pueblo, and Jeff is a dispatcher. Kevin is the maintenance supervisor, and Mike is a dispatcher. Sherry came to Manweiler Transports with banking and finance experience. Justin has a degree in business management, and Jeff has a degree in computer science.
“Together, we have a well-balanced skill set for managing this company,” Manweiler says. “For instance, Jeff has been able to customize our payroll and inventory-control programs to meet our specific needs.”
All of the Manweiler family members work out of the Pueblo terminal, which was built in 1998. Most of the fleet also is based there. Three petroleum transports run out of a satellite facility in Commerce City, just north of Denver.
“We don't need to position a lot of equipment in the Denver area,” Merle says. “We send about 15 transports a day up there from Pueblo (109 miles each way). We also do quite a bit of work in Colorado Springs (between Pueblo and Denver). One advantage of basing the fleet in Pueblo is that driver availability is better here.”
He adds that the company hasn't had much difficulty finding drivers. “We have plenty of work for them,” he says. “We have good pay and benefits, and we put them in top-quality tractors.”
Most of the drivers are able to haul four to five loads a day, and trips average 50 to 75 miles. A key reason is that the drivers handle a large number of local loads in Colorado Springs, one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States. However, the carrier also has longer hauls, including jet fuel shipments to customers in Montana.
Most of the drivers start a shift by checking customer storage tank levels on a computer at the Pueblo terminal. Remote gauging capability is in place at a majority of customer locations, and that makes it possible for drivers to load the exact amount of gasoline and other fuels needed by the customer.
Drivers use company-supplied cellular telephones to stay in touch with dispatchers throughout the day. Supplied by Verizon, the cell phones are programmed with company-selected phone numbers, and the keypads are disabled.
“We make it clear that these phones are just for work use,” Merle says. “We chose Verizon service, because it seems to work well in the mountains. The phones have a GPS capability, but we're not happy with it. We'll probably look at other options for satellite tracking.”
With few exceptions, drivers are assigned permanently to a tractor. In most cases, they are the only driver of that tractor. “We have just one driver in about two-thirds of our tractors,” Merle says. “We're slip-seating 10 units right now.”
All of the tractors are PACCAR products (Kenworth and Peterbilt). “We ran PACCAR products from the very start,” Merle says. “The fleet used to be 100% Kenworth, but we've got a few Peterbilts now.”
What prompted the PACCAR loyalty? First and foremost, MHC Kenworth in Pueblo gave the Manweilers crucial financial backing to get the carrier started in 1995. “They've been with us every step of the way,” Merle says.
Other key factors include driver satisfaction, manufacturer warranty support, and resale value. “We're always looking toward the second user of our tractors,” Merle says. “These tend to be owner-operator gravel haulers, and they want Kenworths and Peterbilts. We usually sell our used trucks right off the parking lot at our terminal.”
Those tractors are well outfitted. “We specify the sort of trucks that drivers want to operate,” Merle says. “We give them plenty of power and chrome and a comfortable cab with extra insulation. Even with all of that, we're able to keep tare weight between 15,000 and 16,000 pounds for a daycab unit.”
Specifications include 475-horsepower Caterpillar C15 engines, Eaton 10-speed transmissions and tandem-drive axles, Alcoa aluminum wheels, Michelin tires, and 150-gallon aluminum fuel tanks. The carrier specifies engine brakes as standard. All of the tractors have Blackmer product pumps.
With so much of the operation being conducted through the mountains, all of the tractors carry sets of chains for the drive wheels. “We've really had some problems with the tire chains this winter,” Manweiler says. “Most of the chain sets we purchased recently are imported products that apparently were made with a softer steel. These chains are breaking apart sometimes after just a single use. It has made winter driving even more difficult for our drivers.”
Typically, the carrier runs tractors for three years or 475,000 miles. “We try to stay just under warranty when we replace tractors,” Merle says. “However, we have some trucks in our fleet that are at 600,000 miles, and they are still working great for us. That's a real testament to the quality of the vehicles and our maintenance program.
“We do need to replace some of the oldest tractors during 2007, but we are moving cautiously on that. We're very concerned about 2007 engine performance, and we are waiting to see which engine manufacturer can demonstrate that it has the best, most reliable product. We'll probably buy eight to 10 tractors if we can solve the engine issue.”
Manweiler Transports runs its petroleum trailers even longer than the tractors. In fact, there is no set replacement age for the tankers. “Our fleet is still expanding, and we have plenty of work for all of our trailers,” Merle says. “We bought 10 new tank trailers in 2006. We specify them for a long life.”
The fleet includes petroleum tankers from Beall Trailers, Heil Trailer International, and Polar Tank Trailer LLC. The newest DOT406 units have four compartments, double bulkheads between compartments, and a 9500-gallon capacity.
Tank hardware includes Betts internal valves and domelids, Civacon and Emco Wheaton delivery outlets, API bottom-loading adapters, and Scully overfill protection. Kanaflex product hoses have couplings from PT Coupling.
Manweiler Transports specifies both spring suspensions and air suspensions. “We have some trailers with the Hendrickson Intraax air-suspension system,” Merle says. “However, we're also buying trailers with spring suspensions from Hutch and Reyco. Spring suspensions perform well, weigh less, and are easier to maintain.”
Trailers and tractors get plenty of maintenance attention at the carrier's 10,000-sq-ft shop in Pueblo. In addition to three maintenance bays, the shop has a one-bay exterior wash rack. The shop, along with the rest of the headquarters terminal, was built in 1998.
Terminal security got a significant upgrade over the past year. The carrier invested approximately $50,000 in a card-access system. Every driver carries a card with a computer chip that is used to open the security gate at the front of the facility. Card use is controlled and tracked by computer.
Computers also help Kevin and his two mechanics manage the maintenance operation. Work orders are processed using Tatem computer software, and computerized diagnostics are used to evaluate engine performance.
Preventive service is the focus of the Manweiler Transports maintenance operation. Engine oil is changed at 10,000-mile intervals, which means tractors are in the shop at least once a month. Tank trailers are on a 60-day inspection schedule.
“Anytime a vehicle is in the shop, we give it a complete visual inspection, and we replace anything showing wear,” Kevin says. “Keeping the small things fixed helps retain drivers and prevents major vehicle breakdowns.
“We also keep a close watch on vehicle warranties. We send the Kenworth tractors to the dealer for warranty service, but, with the exception of component rebuilds, we do the warranty work ourselves on the Petes. We spec our vehicles for maximum warranty. For instance, we run synthetic lubricant in our transmissions and drive axles, which qualifies us for a 750,000-mile warranty on those components.”
Code work on the petroleum trailers is handled at a qualified commercial tank repair shop. This includes pressure tests and internal tank inspection. The Manweiler Transports maintenance team does the Method 27 vapor test, as well as maintaining trailer running gear and the electrical system.
The maintenance program at Manweiler Transports helps ensure that the fleet performs at its best regardless of tractor or trailer age. Payoffs from the maintenance program include satisfied drivers and customers who are confident that they will receive a consistently high level of service.
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