It Takes Two
The operating partnership between trucker and spouse
By Timothy D. Brady
Trucking is often a husband and wife enterprise, requiring the full dedication of both to make it a success — whether they drive team or one’s on the road and the other home. As any trucker will attest, the truck decides everything: when you’ll be home, when you have to leave again, whether you have money for the long-awaited vacation or the vacation becomes a new transmission. Trucking takes marriage to a whole new level.
One driving, one at home
Gail and Paul Morrison have done it all: their own authority, lease operators, OTR and local delivery. Currently Paul is doing a 614-mile-per-day dedicated run from southern Georgia to the Atlanta area and back, five days a week.
The run didn’t just happen. Paul had been doing expedited truckload, going wherever the freight needed to go. He was asked to cover a run that began 20 miles from his home in southern Georgia and went to Atlanta. The problem was, it was dedicated only one way, and the trucking company to which he’s leased was required to locate return freight. Paul noticed the company he was delivering to in Atlanta had empty parts racks that needed to be taken back to the plant in southern Georgia. He also discovered there were other factories along his route needing parts from southern Georgia, sending parts they assembled to others along his route or wanting their empty parts racks hauled.
Paul and Gail figured out a pick-up and delivery plan that would handle all the different manufacturing facilities in which parts or empty racks were picked up and delivered — all in a single day. Previously it had taken 2-3 days. They presented the plan to their carrier and customer, and the rest is history. Paul and Gail’s revenue increased, giving them a dedicated run with a constant payday each week, and providing the customer considerable savings.
Paul and Gail have had their ups and downs in the trucking business, but their dedication to each other and to the customers they serve shows why they are successful. Gail is the stay-at-home partner and has transferred her auditor skills to being the general manager of their trucking company. Even though Paul is leased to an expedited company, they operate as if they were still a motor carrier. They know what it costs them to operate: their break-even point, a realistic financial goal, and ways to cut costs.
Gail handles all the paper work: She puts each day’s load manifest together, bills out the previous day’s deliveries and makes sure all the truck’s paper work is correct and sent to the trucking company. And because Paul is on a dedicated run and can’t afford to be down for repairs during the week, he gives Gail the list of services to be completed on the following Saturday.
Paul leaves the house each morning around 6:30 and bobtails 20 miles to the plant in southern Georgia. He hooks up to his pre-loaded trailer and heads towards Atlanta, making three stops and dropping off racks of parts and picking up empty racks. The entire trip encompasses 12-14 hours, depending on traffic and delays. Paul’s last action before heading to the house is to back the trailer to a dock door and unhook.
Even though Gail is not teaming with Paul, he’s in constant contact with her throughout the day. She makes sure he has all the necessary paper work, and he leaves each morning with a breakfast sandwich, a packed lunch and that all-important Thermos of coffee.
Both in the truck
Charles and Diana Stilzner have been an owner-operator team for more than 30 years. Driving together as business partners and husband and wife was their intention from the very beginning. Charles had been in the military, driving heavy equipment. “When I finished active duty, my senior officer suggested I go apply for work at Barrett Moving & Storage,” he says. Initially Charles got on as a yard jockey moving trailers, then advanced to doing household moves. “In those days you put whatever fit in the truck. Barrett is a multifaceted trucking company where household moving is one part,” he says. “Three weeks ago we were in Boston and delivered a household, then hooked up to our flatbed and hauled oversized for Lockheed Martin, and now we’re hauling crates back to Ohio on the same flatbed. But our main trailer is a high-cube, climate-control where we haul art work, museum pieces; even the Moon Lander for the Johnson Space Center.”
Soon after Diana and Charles were married in 1978 (and they’ll tell you they were the first Charles and Diana, the real fairy tale marriage), Charles was in Florida loading when he fell and broke three ribs. Diana flew there and drove the truck while Charles healed. That’s when she decided that for their marriage to work, she needed to be working shoulder-to-shoulder with her husband. They both love to cruise the highway, so when the opportunity arose to get paid for cruising together, it was a no-brainer. When asked who does what, Diana says, “Charles picks the loads and how they’ll be routed, and I pay the bills and manage the bookkeeping. We share all the other duties — loading, tarping, inventorying, dealing with the unexpected breakdown, etc. We split driving down the middle. If I come across bad weather, accidents, or whatever during my shift, it’s my responsibility to deal with it, as it is his when he’s driving. It’s our responsibility to be sure the other gets the rest they need; our lives depend on it. He respects my ability to do anything required to operate this truck, and he trusts my decisions, as I do his.”
The Stilzners have taken the past 30 years’ experience and molded it into a lifestyle. They respect and trust each other, in both their personal relationship and business relationship. When I ask Charles how they divided up their duties, he responds, “I do what she tells me to do.”
I jokingly ask, “Does she do this with a rod or a whip?”
Charles’ response speaks volumes about their success: “She does it with kindness and determination.”
Like a marriage, a partnership trucking business is a commitment that requires dedication to make it work. Both the Stilzners and the Morrisons understand this, thriving for over 50 years combined as trucking couples. They both said the hardest part of trucking is that ‘mistress in the driveway.’ The biggest challenge is to schedule time to get away from the truck, not talk about the truck or its business.
In trucking, as in marriage and life, if you know where you are, where you need to go and have a plan, you’ll arrive at your destination, whether you’re delivering a load or traveling towards your goals.
Timothy D. Brady is an instructor for trucking business workshops through a partnership with a major university and local community college.