Different Routes - A Driver Profile
"As we write, Pam and I are traveling up the road from Atlanta to Charlotte, NC in our 40 foot expediting home-on-wheels straight truck."
"We dropped off a 900 pound load of air cleaners from Wisconsin to the Yamaha plant in Newnan, GA this morning and we decided to go to Charlotte to wait for a load because there are already 3 other Tri-State team trucks on the Atlanta board waiting for loads."
Thus began the email we received from Pam and Ed Wetmiller, the subjects of our latest Driver Profile. We had approached the couple a few days before about their possible appearance on EO and found them to be two of the friendliest and forthright people we've had the pleasure to meet.
With the help of their puppy, Jazz, the couple run a team operation in a "D"-sized unit for Tri-State Expedited Service, Inc., and have recently relocated to the far western side of the Florida panhandle to Milton, FL.
Like many owner/operators in this business, Pam and Ed took somewhat circuitous career paths before moving into expediting a couple of years ago.
Ed Wetmiller, 55, is originally from Rochester, NY. He begins his story: "I followed my parent's wishes and did the college thing and received a Bachelors degree in Business Administration. I then followed my government's wishes and went to Viet Nam as an artillery officer. After the service, I obeyed my family's wishes once again and became Vice President of a Savings Bank."
"I got kind of rebellious and became co-owner and co-manager of a Kampground of America facility. While at the campground, I really got rebellious and began driving a school bus and found that I liked the experience of driving something big."
Pam Wetmiller, 48, on the other hand, had roots in truck driving as the daughter of a regional truck driver. She also has a brother and a sister who drive big rigs over-the-road.
Her own lifelong desire to drive trucks had to take a back seat during her life as a mother and housewife, but she kept her driving skills current by working as a school bus driver for 18 years. As her life situation changed and the kids were grown, she finally decided to try her dream.
Ed picks up the story: "We both went through a private truck driving school a little late in life (Is that why the other students thought of us as Mom and Dad)?"
"Pam started school a few classes ahead of me and was an experienced driver of 3 or 4 months by the time I caught up to her. We began driving a reefer, hauling produce between Ohio and California."
"We ran the 18-wheelers for a year and really liked the experience but we decided to try something local for a while."
The couple worked for the company with all the "big orange trucks" in a drop lot situation in Lima, OH for a year, but they decided that they were too old to drop and hook the rest of their lives. Ed says that "Big Orange" did them a favor by pointing them towards expediting.
"They had a policy of no animals in their trucks," says Ed, "so we were forced to look around for another employment opportunity when we decided to go back on the road. We weren't going to do it without the whole family which includes our puppy, a Bichon Frise named Jazz."
"Pam had heard about expediting and Tri-State Expedited Service, Inc. of Perrysburg, Ohio. from a friend at work. As we investigated the concept, we found out that Tri State was a 100% owner/operator company and had as good a reputation as any of the expediting companies out there."
"We found out that a number of the owner operators with Tri-State did have more than one truck, so that we could have actually signed on to drive someone else's truck."
"Call us young and foolish; I figured that I couldn't give Pam kids any longer, so why not a truck? We found a new truck we liked - a 2000 Freightliner FL 70 with a 96 inch sleeper - and we decided to have them put a 22 foot cargo box on it so that we could make a living with it."
The couple went through the three day Tri-State orientation in Toledo; they learned how Tri-State operated, who the company's customers were and how to treat them. They also learned how to do the paperwork, who to talk to, or in some cases, who would be talking to them at headquarters, and how to use their Qualcomm system.
By Thursday of that week, Pam and Ed were an owner/operator team out on the road.
Ed says, "A large percentage of what we haul is automotive items."
"Typically we will go to a small company somewhere in the country, pick up a load that is considered important to get somewhere else in a hurry and take it between the two points. We may carry a load of a few pounds or over 10,000 pounds."
"Most of our trips are east of the Mississippi, but we always look forward to that Qualcomm offer that will take us on a long and profitable trip to the west coast."
Ed tells us that not all their trips to the west coast are quick turnarounds because of the scarcity of expedited loads coming back east, "but we are content enough to consider the trip to the west coast as an all expenses paid vacation if worst comes to worst."
"In the two full years that we have been expediting, we have grossed about $125,000 each year. We consider this to be typical of what a team can do per year."
"I'm still amazed," Ed continues, "by the concept of expediting. I realize that the just-in-time inventory system is here to stay, but I'm pleasantly surprised by the big dollars that manufacturing is willing to pay for the service of on-time or emergency delivery."
"It seems that it's becoming more difficult for the single driver to make it, but it would appear that team operations are still profitable. As long as expediting is good to us, we're more than happy."
Pam and Ed report no real problems with nasty shippers or receivers so far. "If we forsee a problem, we send Pam in to defuse the situation," Ed says laughingly.
Pam tells us, "My experience has been to just go in with a smile and a friendly attitude and they'll treat you great and get you unloaded."
"I really like expediting; it can be like a working vacation and we get paid for it. In just two years, we've been in every state except Alaska."
"If any woman wants to try trucking, expediting is a great way to get involved," she adds. "And if you run a straight truck, you don't have to worry about backing that trailer!"
When Ed and Pam are on the road, they tell us that they fill any empty hours by reading, watching satellite TV and using their laptop. They're very comfortable in their 96" sleeper which has a couch that pulls out to a full size bed and with an extra mattress on top, it's very comfortable.
The sleeper also contains microwave, fridge/freezer, a sink with running water and a Porta Potty. Power is supplied by a 4.5 KW Rigmaster generator "that's saved us hundreds of hours of idle time."
Ed tells us that prospective expediters approach them with questions: "A number of people ask us how much we can make in a year and if it is a good business to get into."
"All I can say is that it depends on how much time you want to spend on the road, how careful you are about your business practices such as watching your expenses and keeping track of all of them for tax purposes and studying your settlements well enough to know that they are right."
Ed says that it's important to be diplomatic, yet realistic when dealing with the company: "Remember that it is good to be a team player with your company, but some times you have to remember that the two entities have conflicting goals and you have to weigh your options (and thus sometimes do what you think is best and not what they tell you is best in the decisions you make)."
"Overall, I would have to say that Tri-State has been fair to us and we haven't had any problems with the company that we couldn't overcome. We have a lot of respect for the dispatchers who we deal with on a regular basis."
Ken Rideout, Director of Safety and Recruiting for Tri-State Expedited Service, Inc. says, "The Wetmillers are knowledgeable contractors; they know the value of keeping the wheels rolling."
"Pam and Ed received our Tri-State Safe Driving Award in 2000. We're very proud to have professional drivers like them as part of our fleet."
The couple are proud participants in the Trucker Buddy program and have been able to visit their fourth grade class in Olathe, KS twice in the last two years. Pam emails the kids once a week with details of where the couple has been and their teacher, Ms Laura Martz, will respond with news of the class.
Pam and Ed put together a list of things that are important to them and we present it here in their own words.
During the several years we have been on the road we.....Like to get trips that might let us see one of our kids: Atlanta, Washington DC, Tampa or Lima, OH (we have just moved to Florida, so now Lima is on the list of trips needed to see kids and grandkids) Think everyone should join the Owner/Operators Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) because of their activities that benefit the Owner/Operators as well as the insurance and other services they offer. Like a little truck stop in Laredo, TX named "World's Greatest Truckstop." Gene is the owner and the hardest worker there. Think Flying J's have the best fuel prices and most consistent quality shower rooms. Like to go to California the best, especially if we can get over to route 152 near Hollister and stop at "Casa de Fruita" or down the coast to Pismo Beach. Like to listen to the Truckin' Bozo and also like to go on the cruises he sponsors. Now like to get home more often since we moved to Florida and have a screened in pool and hot tub and beaches nearby and a Honda Gold Wing 1200. Have gotten a laptop computer and GPS so we can find our way anywhere and we can get and send email anytime, anyplace. Haven't gotten rich but we enjoy traveling and consider this job "semi work." Have gotten XM radio that lets us listen to radio anywhere in the country without having to search the dial. Like to find a swimming hole for our swimming dog, so far the swimming holes have been the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, Great Lakes and many ponds in between.
"We hope to see you on the road!"