Driver Profile: Pat and Stephanie Hinnegan
These folks were so pleasant and charming that the crowd was actually happy for their win. It was during the awards presentation that we discovered that the couple had been in the expediting business for less than six months at that time and that it was the first time they had participated in a truck beauty show.
In the relatively short time since last year's show, Pat and Stephanie have experienced difficulties that would try the patience and resolve of anyone. They've not only managed to survive this adversity, they've been able to succeed in their own way.
Their secret? They've never given up.
Meet The Hinnegans
Stephanie begins, "We're from Troy, OH, a small town about 20 miles north of Dayton. Pat and I both worked for the city, Pat as an equipment operator, and I was a Street Division foreman.
"We put in a combined 26 years with the city of Troy and we soon discovered that expediting is a totally different world from working in local government!"
No newcomer to professional driving, Pat had two and a half years over the road experience with Schneider National carriers in the early 90's.
"After I left Schneider," Pat says, "I went to work in a local factory, stamping metal car parts. After that I went to work for the city of Troy and drove dump trucks and ran front end loaders, backhoes, Bobcats and other equipment."
"It was Stephanie's idea to leave the City. She asked me one day if I'd ever heard of expediting. After looking at ExpeditersOnline.com and other Internet sites, we started getting very interested in the business."
Stephanie already had her CDL, but didn't know how to shift a non-synchro transmission; two days of practice in a K-Mart parking lot fixed that.
Pat continues, "We attended a truck show in Ft Wayne and looked at what was available in straight trucks. After talking to Jeff Jones, we decided to go with a Kenworth T300 with an 84" Bentz sleeper."
"A factor in our decision in picking an expediting company was the feedback we read on the EO Forums. Stephanie would also talk to expediting drivers she found and 90 per cent of them had positive things to say about Tri-State Expedited Service, Inc."
"In the middle of April 2001, we attended the 3 day Tri-State orientation and started with the company on April 23, 2001."
Pat and Stephanie say that they never had any extensive layovers: "Maybe a day and a half at the most. For the six and a half months that we ran the KW (nicknamed Mary Jane), it seems like we ran a big circle from Dayton, OH to Michigan to Laredo, TX. We would continue on to Shreveport, LA to New Jersey and back home again, usually all within 7 to 10 days."
The couple ran strong during that time period, right up to the date that many Americans now use as a time marker, 9-11-2001.
Pat and Stephanie were among a group of Tri-State owner/operators who participated in a relief mission to take much needed supplies to New York City the weekend after the attack.
Pat, who is originally from Long Island, says that this convoy from Sylvania, OH to New York is the couple's most memorable experience in their expediting career. Stephanie says, "Tri-State was great with us about the trip to NYC, they paid everything including fuel."
"Susan in Settlements at Tri-State (who organized the NYC convoy) was incredible in putting this whole thing together." Click Here!
"Ironically, it was the weekend after 9-11 when we came out of Sylvania, OH with relief supplies for NYC," Pat says, "when Stephanie started feeling sick with a lot of abdominal pain.
"The pain was so severe that she couldn't drive. We found a doctor who correctly diagnosed her ailment in October; he discovered a number of internal cysts."
"After that, it got to the point where the pain kept her out of the truck. We had her surgery scheduled, but four days before the surgery, we got a letter telling us that our health insurance had been cancelled with no reason given. It turns out that the insurance had actually been cancelled two months prior to that, but they were late in letting us know."
"If there is a bright spot to this ongoing story, it's that a biopsy showed no cancerous material. Stephanie's still in pain, but because the operation will cost many thousands of dollars, the surgery is on hold."
Stephanie tells us, "Getting into expediting was my idea, and everything was going well, until the medical problems popped up. I really miss the big truck and being out there with Pat."
"I'm attending a vocational school in Dayton, OH now, studying to become a medical assistant. I really like what I'm doing now and the schooling is going very well, but I still miss expediting and being with Pat."
Pat says this about his wife: "She's a strong, determined woman, and she's not going to let this stop her."
Some Thoughts About This Business
"Some other features of expediting I enjoy include the fact that the freight isn't on the truck too long and the idea that we're the captains of our own ship," Pat tells us.
"One of the first things I noticed about expediting business is that I'm a 'wanted man.' It's not like you're pulling into the grocery warehouse or paper mill and you take your place in line. When they see you in this business, they want what's on your truck. I like the adrenaline rush when the freight is put on the truck and you've got to go."
He continues, "In expediting, you're not punching a time clock and there's no 9-5 structure with a boss looking over your shoulder. If the time is right, you can shut down and see some things or just take a break."
"Some of our favorite spots where we traveled were northwest North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, northwest South Carolina; what we consider to be God's country."
"Both Stephanie and I liked the idea of being 'paid professional tourists."
A Change In Business Strategy
"When we discovered that we couldn't run team any longer, we had to make some business decisions," Pat informs us. Because we didn't foresee profitability in running single in the KW which we bought for a team operation, we sold it through the Free Classifieds on ExpeditersOnline."
"We were fortunate that, even though the truck had to go for something of a loss, we had done well enough that I could shut down for 4 months and still pay the bills. Stephanie made sure that everything was paid off and we had no outstanding debts beyond the truck."
"I like this business and didn't want to leave. I decided to downsize into a cargo van because running single in a straight truck was, for me, not the profitable way to go."
"I looked at the Ford E series first, then Stephanie told me to take a look at the Freightliner Sprinter. I called Dan Tilley at Freightliner of Knoxville and he sent me some information.
Pat continues, "A couple of weeks later Dan called and told me that there was a Sprinter up at Bentz Transport Products in Ft Wayne, IN. After looking at it, I was quite interested."
"What sold me was the length of the body which allowed me to have a real sleeper and separate cargo area, the tall roof and the fact that it has a Mercedes powertrain."
Pat ordered a 2001 Sprinter long body model with a 158" wheelbase and 73" tall roof. After installation of the cargo bulkhead, there was still enough interior space for the Bentz sleeper that's equipped with a Fan-tastic roof vent, refrigerator, 13" TV/VCR combo, Playstation II and 1000 watt inverter. Overhead oak cabinets and tall closet complete the unit which is heavily insulated with upholstered walls.
"Pat was serious about finding a cargo van that had the space available for a real sleeper," say Dan Tilley. "The only van that I know of that fits the bill is the Sprinter. Our dealership worked closely with both Pat and Bentz Transport Products to custom build the sleeper for Pat with all the amenities he needed."
Pat says that this is an extremely comfortable sleeper and is very quiet due to the insulation.
"This is my second Bentz sleeper and if there's any better sleeper, they'll have to show it to me. They stand behind what they sell and they're very down to earth people and you can believe what they say. This is their first big truck style sleeper in a cargo van and I couldn't be more pleased."
Interestingly enough, Pat had never driven his new van until he picked it up this past March at the Mid-America Truck Show in Louisville. The van had been on display at the Freightliner of Knoxville booth where it attracted more than it's share of lookers who were mightily impressed with the Bentz sleeper.
The first time he drove his Sprinter was when he wheeled it out of the building after the close of the show.
Pat put the truck on the road around 7 weeks ago, and has rolled up 12,000 miles on the odometer so far.
"My impressions of the van: The heaviest load I've had so far was1900 pounds. I was very impressed with the way the Sprinter ran through the hills from Columbus, OH to Asheville, NC. It didn't bog down going up and down the hills at all. It did just what it was supposed to do. Mileage is right around 20mpg, but then again, I've got a twitchy right foot."
"I wasn't sure that the 2.7 liter diesel was going to have enough power for this van, but that trip through the hills was an eye-opener for me. Plenty of power, even with a load."
Pat tells us that the van isn't perfect though: "It could use a tilt wheel, softer steering wheel and I think it needs a PTO to allow idle up. Other than that, I'm extremely pleased with the van."
"The only problem I've had with the Sprinter," Pat continues, "was during the first week when I happened to be in Toledo. I was pulling on to a highway and the transmission wouldn't shift past third gear or so."
"I pulled off the highway and shut it down. I restarted soon after that, but the problem didn't reappear. After a call to Dan Tilley, he referred me to Charles Cook, a Sprinter service representative. Charles was in Cleveland that day, but would be in Toledo the next day."
"The next day, Charles and I met up at the Flying J. He got a big box out of the back of his SUV along with a laptop and a printer and performed a diagnostic right there in the parking lot which drew a crowd of other expediters."
"After analyzing the codes," says Pat, "he didn't find anything connected to the problem. He suggested that the idle speed at rest might be too low and contributing to the problem. Since then, I've run the van at higher idle and the problem hasn't returned.
An Expediting Overview
Pat and Stephanie have some key points about this business: "Do your research before signing with any company. Talk to as many drivers as you can. Of course, opinions vary according to the week that the driver is having; if he's doing well, he tends to be a little more upbeat, just as a bad week will reflect in negative comments."
"The truth is best found by talking to those who live the life daily, not someone who gets paid to get you to sign the contract."
"Have enough money in reserve to cover several months of expenses and repairs. Put your business first in all decisions. Also, know that there are new Owner/Operators being put through orientation weekly."
Pat and Stephanie receive high marks from their company. Ken Rideout, Director of Safety and Recruiting at Tri-State says, "We take great pride in contractors like Pat Hinnegan. His attention to the image he projects by having top of the line, impressive looking equipment, reflects not only his personal professionalism but that of Tri-State."
"Pat and Stephanie's charity in the 9/11 incident is typical of their dedication to their country and fellow citizens in need. They deserve the pat on the back."
Lately, Pat and Stephanie have been able to enjoy some quality time with their children; Josh, 27 and Brandy, 24. Relatively new additions to the group are grandson Kalob, 1 and granddaughter Kylee, 2. And don't forget the great nephews Isaiah and Thomas!
Hometime also means indulging in their favorite pastime, NHRA drag racing, and watching their favorite racer, John Force.
Pat and Stephanie Hinnegan personify many of the expediter's better qualities: independence, self-reliance, and a strong work ethic. Life may have put some roadblocks in their way, but they keep on keepin' on.