Right for the job Versatility keeps end-dumps operating year-round End-dump operations usually conjure up images of local construction work, but that's far from the extent of their applications. Little Rock, Ark.-based Oakley Trucking, for example, has been in the end-dump business since 1968, hauling a variety of dry bulk freight, including roofing granules, scrap metal, petroleum coke, alloys and fertilizer. Oakley's over-the-road operations cover the 48 contiguous states, as well as Mexico and Canada.

Oakley Trucking, headed by Bruce Oakley, founder and owner, and his son Dennis, president, is a 100% owner-operator fleet, according to Jeremy Kellett, director of recruiting. It owns all of its end-dump trailers, the majority of which are manufactured by Ravens. "The Ravens units are custom built to our specifications," he says. "We currently operate between 170 and 180 end-dump trailers."

The trailers Kellett is talking about are 40-ft. end-dump units with flat-bottom floors, capable of carrying up to 48,000 lb. of material. For versatility, each unit is equipped with two-way tailgates that enable the fleet to haul not only bulk freight for traditional end-dump operations, but also palletized loads and bulk bags when the need arises.

Kellett says he's noticed a growth in the trend toward end-dump usage in the industry. "Many customers prefer deliveries with end-dumps because they're quick and easy; a whole load can be dumped out neatly in a designated spot."

Working for Oakley Trucking are over 250 owner-operators. Kellett notes that about 65 of these independents drive Oakley's pneumatic tank trailers, which are capable of bottom-dropping material or blowing it into silos and other storage facilities. The remaining drivers all pull the end-dump trailers.

"It takes a special caliber of owner-operator to operate an end-dump," Kellett says. "If not handled properly the units can turn over, but we don't see many of those in a year. New drivers are trained on how to correctly use the end-dumps, and they start out initially with a veteran driver who shows them the best ways to do things.

"We have some of the best owner-operators working for us. One of the things we pride ourselves on is listening to their ideas and comments. For example, their suggestions regarding any adjustments we could make to the trailers that would help them out in their jobs are taken into account when we spec new equipment," Kellett says.

Oakley provides all maintenance on the end-dumps either at its headquarters in Little Rock or its newest terminal in Reserve, La., which opened in August.

Drivers are assigned to their own trailer. Typical deliveries run one day to the next, with average hauls of 500 miles. Good communication between owner-operators and their dispatchers, as well as with customers, is stressed at Oakley. In order to make the best decisions about a load, Kellett says it's vital that both fleet managers and drivers thoroughly understand and communicate every detail of a shipment.

Like many other fleet executives, Kellett is concerned about how changes in hours-of-service (HOS) regulations will affect his company. "Between HOS regs and fuel prices," he says, "people are more hesitant about getting into the owner-operator business.

"We try to help our drivers out as much as we can with fuel costs by using a fuel surcharge," Kellett adds, "which is later paid back to the driver in his settlement. We also make sure our drivers never pay more than the national average for fuel and reimburse them for any purchases above that average."

SKY HIGH Over the past year, says Mark Sisk, owner and president of Curtis Trucking, escalating fuel prices have also become a major issue for his fleet. "The fact of the matter is that we must pay the market price for fuel and are not allowed much consideration on the accounts receivable end.

"The fuel surcharges we receive do not put a dent in the increase in prices. Also, we must honor bids to customers that were given before any increases in fuel costs occurred, as well as price new work competitively," Sisk explains.

Curtis Trucking is the dump hauling arm of Centerline Specialized Carriers Group, headquartered in Fredericksburg, Va. Among the materials the carrier transports are specialized and contractor's grade sand, dirt, aggregate stone, salt, ore, chemicals and agricultural commodities.

Curtis Trucking operates throughout the Mid-Atlantic states, primarily using all-aluminum, 40-ft. framed end-dump trailers built by East Mfg. According to Sisk, transportation of products varies from frequent, on-demand requests to the more regular contracted hauls required by larger manufacturing industries.

"We find end-dump trailers to be very versatile, allowing us to competitively transport various commodities more efficiently," Sisk reports. "East has been instrumental to us by supplying end-dump trailers that meet our specifications.

"They've also addressed a number of issues that are important to us, such as raising the hydraulic tank up 4 in. so we have easier access to the shut-off valve if we develop a leak with the hydraulics," Sisk notes.

Curtis Trucking dispatches over 100 tractor-trailers on a daily basis. Company-owned equipment includes 30 specialty end-dump trailers and two tractors. Owner-operators haul the fleet's remaining end-dumps, which are either leased or owned by the independent.

To optimize efficiency in the fleet, Sisk says Curtis specs low-sided end-dumps to handle heavier, denser commodities, and high-sided end-dumps for less-dense materials that are transported longhaul.

Receiving requirements also dictate equipment specs. A three-in-one gate configuration is spec'd on certain trailers to ensure versatility in different dumping applications. Also, the extra weight provided by framed dumps makes them preferable to frameless units in keeping the backs of the trailers up 4 ft. when material is dumped in order to create a tall, uniform pile.

Versatility of equipment and freight helps keep Curtis Trucking operating around the calendar. The fleet is a major delivery provider of highway salts and maintenance chemicals to the states of Virginia, North Carolina, and Maryland. According to Sisk, these seasonal commodities are welcome business during the winter months, which are traditionally slower periods for the end-dump hauler.

"The biggest challenge for a trucking company," Sisk observes, "is having all of your resources utilized at any given time. We need to keep our trucks as busy as possible without sacrificing service or safety. "