The public sees the spectacular trucks in person, print readers see the colorful pictures of them, and YouTubers watch vids of the carnival-like competitions. But when the Shell Rotella SuperRig competitions are over, it’s back to work—and back to the reality of today’s trucking industry, the good and the not so good.
For Bill Rethwisch, it’s dealing with fleet ownership issues in the main, but the personable owner of 12-truck Rethwisch Transport, Tomah, WI, has things well under hand, starting with electronic logging devices (ELDs). The December 18 mandate means little to him because all his trucks are already equipped with them, and his drivers are accepting of them.
“As a business owner, I’m a fan of ELDs, and I was happy to put them in all my trucks,” he told American Trucker. “They help me make sure my drivers are getting home on a regular basis. They level the playing field for drivers running over hours. ELDs will drive guys who don’t want to comply out of the business, which will drive my rates up. If I can make more money, I can pay my drivers more and buy better equipment.
“My drivers didn’t like ELDs when I first put them in. One guy quit right away. But I’ve got too much to lose. Guys were reluctant, but now they’re happy with them. If you get pulled over for an inspection, no worries.”
But there is a negative to ELDs, too, Rethwisch said.
“The downfall is we are losing very good senior drivers who don’t want to deal with [an ELD], and they are leaving. We are not able to replace them quickly.”
Rethwisch faces the same driver shortage problem other fleets do, but he’s been luckier than most.
“It’s difficult to keep drivers,” he admitted. “We’ve got a good crew now, but we’ve always had guys who come in and want to drive the cool trucks until they realize they can’t just show them off all day. They gotta work with it. They last four or five months and are out the door. I hate that. It costs me money and makes us look bad because they don’t take care of the truck like they should since they know they’re not going to stay. It’s a struggle keeping good drivers. I’m always looking.”
Keeping themselves as clean as the trucks is a must for Rethwisch’s drivers. “When someone comes through that door, if they’re a good driver, have a great record, and a clean appearance, I’ll hire them and find a truck to put them in. And by clean I mean just dressing with some pride; not wearing ripped up sweatpants.”
Another issue for Rethwisch in particular focuses on the fact that he hauls petroleum, gasoline, diesel, and ethanol exclusively. They are, of course, hazardous materials, or ‘hazmat.’ He hasn’t had to look for new business in over five years. That’s the good. Not being able to hire young, enthusiastic drivers is the bad.
“There are insurance regulations on new guys coming in, and you can’t really drive a truck for me until you’re 25 because I haul hazmat,” he lamented. “I’ve had many good, young drivers come in with CDLs, and I would hire them, but my insurance company says to tell them to come back when they’re 25. But that kid, if he’s worth anything at all when he’s 25, his current company isn’t going to let him go.”