Washington Trucking cements niche in construction
Jan 1, 2004 12:00 PM
BULK CONSTRUCTION materials, cement in particular, brought steady growth for Washington Trucking Inc for more than 40 years. Management has plenty of reasons to believe that the construction-driven growth will continue.
While cement is the dominant cargo, the Everett, Washington-based carrier also transports lime and fly ash in its 70 dry bulker combinations, most of which are Northwest doubles that can haul a 68,000-lb payload. The fleet also has flatbed trailers used to transport bagged cement and other packaged construction materials.
“The Pacific Northwest has been a good market for bulk truck shipments of cement and other construction materials,” says Kris Wright, Washington Trucking president. “We've made our niche in this market, and we provide services that are tailored to our customers' needs. Without a niche, it's very hard to succeed in trucking today.
“This market has been very good to common carriers, which have thrived for several reasons: The railroads are hauling less cement plant to plant; they'd rather use their hopper cars for grain. Most ready mix plants and cement producers in this region don't have in-house transportation. For-hire carriers have been able to provide very cost-competitive service.
“Finally, there's just a lot of construction going on in Washington, Oregon, and the surrounding states that we serve. We've seen a steady increase in business over the past 20 years, and it shows no sign of ending.”
All indications are that the flow of cement into the Pacific Northwest should remain strong throughout 2004. “We see a number of major construction projects coming on line in 2004 that will keep us busy in Oregon, Idaho, and eastern Washington,” Wright says. “At the very least, the new year will be on a par with 2003, which finished out strong.”
More of the construction projects run well into the winter. Chemical additives that make it possible to pour concrete even in cold weather are keeping Washington Trucking busy through more of the year.
Non-traditional projects are among those generating cement loads for Washington Trucking. The soil cement business is a good example. “Environmentalists in the region have been a driving force in pushing the use of cement for soil stabilization where the ground is damp,” Wright says. “It limits the amount of mud tracked out onto roads. One of these projects can take as many as 16 loads of cement a day, and six to eight loads a day are typical.”
Special services have become a big factor in attracting new business and are a crucial part of the carrier's niche focus. Temporary transloading facilities are a fleet specialty that has generated substantial amounts of business in recent years. These portable systems make it possible for Washington Trucking to take on very large projects anywhere in the Pacific Northwest.
The carrier also has a fly ash transloading operation in Spokane, Washington, with a 10-car capacity. Washington Trucking has been providing emergency transloading of dry bulk products for about 25 years. The emergency services are targeted at derailments and other incidents.
“We're willing to do whatever it takes to meet customer needs, and we set up the rail transfer program because we saw a void,” Wright says. “Our portable transfer units are completely self-sufficient. We use them for large construction projects, such as dams and highways, in remote areas.
“One recent project was earthquake-proofing of the Wickiup Dam south of Bend, Oregon. During the 5½-month project, we offloaded five hopper cars a day, totaling 500 tons a day. In all, we handled 535 carloads of cement.”
The temporary transloading sites can be set up in as little as two days if no scale is needed. It takes four days for sites with a portable scale. Other equipment includes a railcar mover, augers, and cement storage guppies.
Built by Spokane Machinery, the augers can transfer 35 tons of cement in eight to 10 minutes. Washington Trucking usually will place two of the conveyors at a location. The carrier has six Fruehauf carbon steel guppies. Each 4,100-cu-ft guppy can hold 150 tons of cement.
The cement needed by Washington Trucking's customers comes from various sources. Just three plants are active in the Pacific Northwest — two in Seattle, Washington, and one in Oregon. Cement arrives by rail from other parts of the United States. Imports from overseas and Canada also help satisfy the demand for cement.
No matter the source of cement, it means loads for Washington Trucking. In addition to hauling loads from the local plants and various Pacific Northwest ports, the carrier serves cement producers in western Canada. “We haul fly ash into Canada and return with cement,” Wright says.
The carrier has held Canadian authority since 1981. Getting that authority was a four-year struggle for Art Wright, Kris Wright's father, who ran the fleet at the time. Art Wright also is a past president of the Washington Trucking Association.
Regardless of where the cement comes from or where it goes, the Washington Trucking fleet is kept busy. The fleet operates out of terminals in Everett (main location), Vancouver, and Spokane. Two rigs also are based in Pasco, Washington.
All billing is through the main office in Everett, but each terminal has its own dispatch operation. Drivers stay in touch with their home terminals using Nextel cellular phones that are configured so that just the walkie-talkie function is active.
Operations are a mix of short hauls and medium hauls. For instance, trips in the Seattle area are typically 60 to 80 miles, and rigs move two to three loads a day. Plant-to-plant transfers can be as far as 300 miles.
Some of the more interesting trips are those that include a ferry ride to reach ready mix plants on Washington's Olympic Peninsula. Washington Trucking's fleet logs hundreds of miles over water every year. The money spent on the ferry is more than justified. For instance, Port Angeles is only 87 miles from Everett by ferry. It is at least 217 miles by highway.
Tractors in the Washington Trucking fleet stay busy, but annual mileage averages 75,000 to 80,000. The power units are specified for low tare weight (14,500 pounds) and long life. About half of the tractors have sleepers.
“We want low weight, but we still want the trucks to look good,” Kris Wright says. “That's what makes this business fun. We also want to maximize lifecycle because we don't want to incur a lot of debt from new vehicle purchases.”
Kenworth conventionals predominate — W900s, T600s, and T800s. Power comes from 430- to 460-horsepower Caterpillar and Cummins engines. Two of the newest tractors in the fleet have Eaton 10-speed AutoShift transmissions, but previous purchases have favored 15-speed gearboxes.
Washington Trucking specifies Eaton and Meritor tandem-drive axles. The newest tractors have a 3.90 drive ratio. Kenworth tractors are ordered with the Airglide air suspension, and the lower-weight Model 380 was chosen for the more recent purchases.
For product handling, tractors are fitted with PTO-driven Gardner Denver blowers. Fittings are stored in a Pro-Tech aluminum toolbox next to the blower. Many tractors also have Pro-Tech headache racks.
A maximum gross combination weight of 110,000 pounds in the carrier's primary operating area favors Northwest doubles trains. The lead dry bulk trailer has a 750-cu-ft capacity and the pup holds 650 cubic feet. Washington Trucking also runs some vacuum-pneumatic trailers with a 1,300-cu-ft capacity.
The newest doubles dry bulkers are from Beall Corporation. Constructed of aluminum, the trailers have Knappco dome lids and check valves and Sure Seal butterfly valves.
The fleet specifies five-inch valves and piping, because about 20% of the customers need a five-inch outlet. Four-inch reducers are attached to the outlets for other customers.
Pad aeration is standard on all of the Washington Trucking dry bulkers. “Unloading cement and related cargoes is much quicker with pad aeration,” Wright says. “It's the best choice for us even though it takes a little more maintenance, and pad replacement is somewhat labor intensive.”
In the Northwest doubles arrangement, the 35-ft lead trailer has a kingpin and upper-coupler. The 20-ft pup connects to the lead trailer with a 15-ft drawbar. Running gear includes the Hendrickson Intraax axle/air-suspension system, ConMet aluminum hubs, Haldex antilock brake system, Alcoa aluminum wheels, and Michelin XT-1 radial tires.
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