The drivers at Jack B Kelley Inc (JBK), Amarillo, Texas, spend a lot of time in their tractors, so when the carrier orders a power unit, driver preferences claim a high priority.

JBK drivers travel throughout the continental United States and parts of Alaska and Canada, hauling primarily compressed liquids, liquid carbon dioxide, and cryogenic gases. The carrier also handles other products such as acetylene, compressed air, argon, bromine, calcium bromide, carbon monoxide, ethylene, helium, hydrogen, hydrogen sulfide, methane, natural gas, nitrogen, nitrogen trifluoride, nitrous oxide, oxygen, and zinc bromide.

For this logistic mix, JBK specifies International 9000i tractors with engine power that will give drivers the edge they need to haul the heavy payloads that JBK specializes in. The Internationals are equipped with Caterpillar C13 engines rated at 430 horsepower. Eaton Fuller supplies UltraShift 14-speed automated transmissions. Running gear includes International air ride suspensions and MeritorWabco antilock braking.

“Our drivers deserve responsive trucks,” says Mark Davis, JBK president. “They are on the road with responsibility for expensive equipment and products — and they have the stress of meeting just-in-time commitments. Providing top-of-the-line power units enhances our driver satisfaction and retention and is a good recruitment tool.”

JBK drivers also have the luxury of high-end tractor interiors with noise-prevention insulation. In addition to the International Blend-Air HVAC system for climate control in the cab and sleeper, drivers can access air-conditioning, heating, and the Internet via Idle Air Technologies Corp equipment located at certain truck stops.

Historical perspective

Running top-quality equipment has been a historical factor in the success of the company that was created in 1946 by the late Jack B Kelley and his wife, Hazel. Kelley was an innovator in the transportation of helium and the development of tube trailers. He acquired his first cryogenic trailers in the 1960s. Throughout the next three decades the company grew as more products were added to the service, but cryogenic gases continue to dominate the operation.

When the senior Kelley died in 1980, Hazel, and their son, Ken, continued at the helm as chairman of the board and chief executive officer, respectively. Today, the corporation with over $73 million in annual revenue is moving its headquarters into new offices in downtown Amarillo from a suburban site. Ken Kelley points out that the move into the new building contrasts with the company's early beginnings when his parents managed operations from their kitchen table.

“That kitchen table remains a part of our corporate offices,” he notes. “Even the clock from that kitchen is there.”

With Kelley and his mother directing the company, the carrier has continued to expand through various acquisitions, as well as enlarging its niche. Today, there are terminals in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas.

Most recently the carrier restructured its Southeast organization that includes a new regional office in Montgomery, Alabama. That office is the control center of the region and will oversee the terminals that include Memphis, Tennessee; Augusta, Georgia; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Richmond, Virginia.

“It is felt that operating the region from a central location will allow us to better utilize our resources and equipment as well as maximize the benefits for our customers and our company drivers and owner-operators,” says Davis.

Maintenance facilities

As part of the Southeast reorganization, a new 603-square-foot office and 2,400-square-foot, two-bay shop are in operation in Augusta. Other terminals with shops include Fontana and Ontario, California; Rock Springs, Wyoming; Great Bend, Kansas; Baytown, Texas; Gonzales, Louisiana; Theodore, Alabama; and Coffeyville, Kansas. The facilities perform general maintenance while more complicated procedures are conducted at the new flagship Amarillo terminal.

The new two-story 16,000-square-foot terminal is home for dispatch, maintenance, a $174,000 parts inventory, safety department, and employee training. The six-bay shop is a vital factor for insuring the carrier meets its customer commitments.

“No longer can we just ask a customer for business,” says Davis. “We have to demonstrate our ability to meet their demand. One way to do that is to have equipment in peak condition.”

In addition, the carrier has upgraded its fleet by purchasing an average of 10 new tank trailers over the past five years and about 120 in the past decade. Today, the fleet numbers almost 250 tank trailers and over 280 tractors (109 are owned by contract drivers).

Tank trailers are supplied by Alloy Custom Products Inc, James Russell Engineering Works Inc, and Texas Trailer Corp. A variety of trailers are in the fleet, including non-spec, MC331, and MC338 cargo tanks. Used to haul products such as carbon dioxide, the MC331 trailers have 5,600-gallon Trinity tanks with Blackmer pumps and Kubota diesel engines. Other trailers for hauling products like argon, nitrogen, and oxygen range in capacity from 7,600 gallons to 9,000 gallons. The MC 338 cargo tanks are used for flammables and include natural gas (methane) and liquid ethylene.

Tank trailers undergo general preventive maintenance at 8,000 miles. The pony engines mounted on the trailers are inspected every four months because of their heavy usage in driving pumps. At 250,000 miles the trailers receive wheel bearings and nut changes. The shops perform all trailer repairs, whether components or running gear.

Tractor preventive maintenance includes general inspection at 8,000 miles followed by oil change at 24,000 miles. Valves and injectors are adjusted at 100,000 miles, and lubricants are changed at 500,000 miles. Most service work is done at JBK shops with warranty work going to dealers.

Handling all of this equipment is a driver force of 315, almost 200 of them company employed, and another 115-plus owner-operators. Their training is directed by Lee Drury, director of safety.

“Our safety department has 175 combined years of experience with compressed gases, cryogenic liquids, and environmental regulations and 260 combined years of experience in the trucking industry,” Drury says.

Driver applicants must be at least 25 years old, have two years over-the-road experience, and hold a current commercial driver license with hazardous materials endorsement. Applicants will not be considered if they have convictions for driving under influence (DUI), operating under influence (OUI), or driving while impaired (DWI) within the past 10 years.

“All of our new hires receive six-to-seven days of classroom training here in Amarillo before they begin in-cab training at their terminals,” Drury says. “Our goal is that they know every skill — how to load, how to unload specific products. It may take months just to learn how to handle liquid hydrogen. JBK has several in-cab trainers that then take the new hires and complete their hands-on training.”

In addition to the JBK training program for drivers, many of the carrier's customers require further training on site at their plants. Training doesn't end until Drury and the driver's terminal manager give their approval.

When drivers are part of the team, they are rewarded for their safety records. Each six months they receive a safety bonus of one cent per mile for the six months. Those who maintain a perfect record receive $100 per year, cumulative. “One of our drivers at our Alabama terminal received $1,800 recently for 18 years of perfection,” Drury says.

Emphasis also is placed on maintaining accurate driver logs, which resulted in the inception of another award. “The Safety Department wanted to recognize and show appreciation to our professional drivers, so in January 2006 we came up with an award called “24-KARAT” that simply means: Knowledgeable About Rules/Regulations And Time Constraints. Participation is open to all company drivers and owner-operators. To win this award, drivers must not have any over-hour violations and they must have absolute accurate time entries. Each winner receives a cap and belt buckle with the 24-Karat designation and a certificate.”

Other awards encourage drivers to review safety topics, such as rollover prevention. Some customers participate in the program and eligible drivers become part of a drawing for a monetary reward. Customers often suggest safety topics for review.

Some customers also conduct annual safety inspections at JBK terminals. “It is much like a mini-Department of Transportation inspection,” says Drury. “They look at our master records as well as taking a look around the terminals.”

Drury conducts weekly tele-conference meetings with terminal managers for safety program updates and other safety-related issues.

To reinforce its safety program, JBK publishes a monthly newsletter, Lite Lines, that is available on the company Web site, jackbkelley.com. The newsletter also can be e-mailed to employees. In addition to employee news from across the company's service area, the publication contains safety tips for drivers and notes employees' outstanding achievements.

Working hand-in-hand with JBK drivers is the carrier's dispatch team that coordinates the transportation logistics. Dispatchers use electronic tools from Qualcomm and TMW Systems. Qualcomm tracking equipment includes OmniVision software that allows dispatchers to communicate with drivers and monitor vehicle location and status.

TMW Systems software helps in managing equipment to maximize tank trailer utilization while matching the commodity to the proper equipment. It also will track previous product history.

Drivers can use TripPac services at truck stops for submitting trip documents, including billing, while on the road. They have the capability in their cabs to scan and print documents. Drivers also can use the Pegasus TransTech's Transflo Express truck stop scanning solution for submitting documents electronically. JBK managers encourage drivers to use the process by providing a bonus for the action. Drivers also benefit because electronic document submission expedites their pay schedule.

The combination of a coordinated dispatcher/driver team working together to insure customer service demands are met plays a big role in the company's success. Having proven vehicle specifications is another factor in the blend as managers prepare for the future.

“Industry is always finding new uses for the products that we transport,” says Kelley, who was involved in alternative fuels long before the current emphasis on their production. He projects the company will continue with slow and steady growth while maintaining his father's foresight into cryogenic gases.

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