Monday, November 03, 2014

Operating Empty In The Scenic South

We delivered in South Carolina on Thursday.  We sat around Friday recuperating from our back to back team runs and on Saturday, while surfing the net, we found a house for sale that we liked and wanted to look at.  It was in Nashville.  It had only been on the market for two days and met almost all of our "must haves".  Houses like this have come and gone in the blink of an eye and we knew if we didn't at least see it, we'd kick ourselves.  The realtor agreed to meet us on Sunday.

So we drove up to Nashville.  A nine-hour, 520-mile deadhead.

For those of you who don't know, deadheading is when you drive empty, with no load, from one place to another.  Sometimes a deadhead is part of your next load.  For instance, maybe you deliver in Newark, New Jersey and then pick up your next load in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania which then delivers in Seattle, Washington.  The six hours from Newark to Pittsburgh would be your deadhead.  Because you're using fuel that you have to pay for to go get that load, you'll want to make sure the rate you get for the load covers the cost of that fuel.  

Typically, we don't deadhead more than two hours but there are situations where the load pays so insanely well, we'll do a four or six or eight hour deadhead to go get it.  A few times we've deadheaded eleven hours.  It's rare, but it happens.  I personally hate to do it because even though it pays, we have to do the actual driving to get it which just feels like another work day to me in a way that picking up a regular load doesn't.  I can't explain my reasoning and Ed hates when I comment about the distance we drive to get another load, but thankfully (for him) it doesn't happen very often.

We have, on occasion, deadheaded for personal reasons.  And when we do that, we pay the fuel out of our pocket since there is no load to cover the cost.  That's what we did this weekend.  The cost fluctuates depending on the fuel prices at the time, and right now it costs us about $0.45 per mile to drive somewhere empty.  So the deadhead from South Carolina to Nashville this weekend set us back about $234.00.  

When we were done house-hunting and visiting with my best friend and her family, we still had to deadhead from Nashville to Alabama to pick up our next load.  That was another six hours, covering approximately 340 miles, and adding an additional $153.00 to our cost.  Part of these two costs will be covered by what the load pays, and the rest we'll try to make up somewhere else down the line.  But if we don't, we don't.  That's trucking.  

We have two record-breaking deadheads.

The first happened when we took a load to Alaska back in 2005.  We picked up in Marietta, Oklahoma and delivered to Fort Richardson, Alaska - which is essentially Anchorage - a trip of over four thousand miles.  The money to make the trip included not only enough to turn a profit (duh, the whole point of being in business), but also enough to cover the 2,452 mile deadhead to Tacoma, Washington to pick up our next load.  If we had to pay the fuel for that 2,400 mile deadhead at the same rate as today, it would have cost us more than $1,100.00.  Likely more because the fuel in Canada is much higher than what we pay here and they sell it by the liter, not the gallon.  Don't even make me do that math, I have enough trouble remembering how many liters (almost four?) to a gallon.  This is a situation where it really matters that what you're getting paid for the load covers the cost of your deadhead.  Even more so because there is almost never freight out of Alaska.

Our second longest deadhead - where we did have to pay for the fuel out of our own pocket - came when we made the decision to make the trip from our home in Arizona to Florida, where the company we're leased to was holding the annual driver appreciation event.  We didn't have a load, we didn't want to fly, we thought it would be best to have our truck with us so we could go right back to work when it was over, and we really wanted to meet up with our friends who were also attending.  Because the event took place on a specific date, we couldn't sit around waiting for just the right freight to come our way, so we just decided to hit the road and foot the bill.  The trip was 1,950 miles, so about $900.00 in fuel.  We felt it was well worth it.

When we're on the road our truck is our personal vehicle.  We use it to go grocery shopping, to the mall, to the movies, out to dinner, to go do laundry, etc.  If we find ourselves in one location for an extended period of time we will rent a car if we know we'll be doing a lot of driving or if we know we have to travel in locations that aren't truck friendly.  But for the everyday errands, it's all done by truck, and the fuel cost isn't covered by anyone but us.  

And because Ed is a stickler for doing things by the book when he's behind the wheel, even when we're not under a load we still log our miles as if we were.  Because there are two of us we really never have to worry about running out of time and we don't have an EOBR (yet) so we don't have to worry about staying within what they're calling "personal conveyance" time.  Which, by the way, is total bullshit.  I'd like to see the people who made these rules try to get ALL of their errands done within the very narrow slice of time they allot.

The bottom line is, deadhead is often unavoidable.  But it's also necessary if you want to continue to run a successful trucking operation.  If you're good with figuring your expenses and watching your numbers (that's all Ed, I have nothing to do with 'rithmatic), you will have the extra cash to use for those times when, on a whim, you drive nine hours to go look at a house that's for sale.

We're on our way to the Northeast now and don't plan on any epic deadheads in the near future.

I need to spend more time soaking in the Fall colors before the big snow hits.  It's coming, y'all.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
2013: The Sun Shines For All Cyclists

2012: Lured Into A Tourist Trap
2011: Dining At The Buckhorn
2010: Ancient Details
2009: Framed By Fake Fall
2008: Let’s Hope This Five Year Old Is As Accurate With His Predictions As He Is With His Aim For The Toilet
2007: Belated Greetings From The Great Pumpkin Pile
2006: Working Man
2005: Black And White


Marlaina said...

We deadhead when it pays to deadhead. If despite the deadhead, the whole trip is profitable, and we're delivering somewhere we want to go we'll do it. When we review the rate we ensure it covers the deadhead to the load, the entire driving miles, because, as you know, often the posted load miles are short of the actual miles we will drive. We add at least 50 miles of Deadhead to Layover, to wherever we will sit until another load surfaces.

We keep about $2,000 on our fuel card for emergency personal deadheads. And this year we used it when my Mother fell in her garden.

Oddly I like to deadhead, driving around with no freight on the trailer because it feels, well, like I have the wind in my hair and I'm in charge of my destiny. I also like to overnight before pickup near the pickup and get loaded mid-morning. It's crazy, but after awhile we all settle into trying to do things the way it suits us.

MacGyver, he only says are we making money, and does he have a Happy Wife:-)

And in some places, like Canada, we often deadhead out to a larger center, empty, knowing that we covered the cost going in AND we will get good fuel mileage, without dragging a fuel-sucking 40,000 pound load of sod, or peat moss or hay, out.

Six years ago, I never imagined that I could have such strong opinions about something I'd never heard of -- deadhead. :-)

Rhiannan said...

Brilliant blog! Would be great if you could check my blog too, I'm new to it all but got a couple of rants going!

Gil said...

You could rent a car or use public transportation rather than 'deadhead'. It would be cheaper than running the rig, but then you'd have to rent a room and eat all your meals out. I bet if you figured it out what you did to look at the house was probably cost efficient. Did you put an offer in on the house?

The Daily Rant said...

GIL: We consider renting a car - but then we'd have to leave the truck for a few days, and pay for a hotel and food, like you said, which would cost just as much (or more) than just paying for fuel. And we would definitely have to get back to the truck to get back to work. And no, we didn't put an offer in on the house but we were very tempted.