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Driver Lifestyles

The highway is their home: Dave and Grace Corfman

By Jeff Jensen, Editor
Posted Dec 8th 2010 7:28AM

davekc.jpgIt's an expediting truism that most owner-operators and drivers come to this business after a career in at least one other field of endeavor.  Dave Corfman discovered the fast freight business because the vending company he was with at the time was an expediting customer. 

As Dave recalls, "When I started looking at some of those freight bills and started talking to some of the companies hauling freight for us, I
thought maybe I'd make a little investment in this and see if it works."

Dave and his wife Grace, both a young 43 years old, have been transporting expedited freight full-time for close to three years. They are currently with Panther II Transportation of Medina, OH.

davekc2.jpgDave is probably best known to the visitors of Expediters Online's Open Forums where he serves as a moderator (Screen name - davekc).  There, he answers questions and dispenses sage advice collected during his many years as a fleet owner and driver. 

Beginnings
"I grew up in Ohio, but I spent a number of years in Texas before moving to Florida a few years ago," Dave begins.  "I spent some twenty years in the bulk vending business, working for several companies. I worked as a supervisor for one company that was one of the largest bulk vendors in the United States.  We supplied candy and novelty machines to accounts like Wal-Mart and other big-box stores."

He continues, "My introduction to expediting began back in the 80's. When I was with that vending company, we had a large K-Mart account we had to service.  We had been getting a lot of vending equipment in from Morris, IL and it was delayed, parts missing, etc.  We had a contractual deadline with K-Mart that we had to meet.  Even though our company had a fleet of 40 trucks, those trucks had to service all of the US and Canada, so we got into a situation where we weren't keeping up."

"I suggested that expediting might be an option to fix that problem.  We could just hire trucks to drop the equipment at the stores and then
send our service people in to set up the machines. Even though the freight charges for expediting were high, we saved a ton of money in man hours."

Grace tells of her background: "I'm originally from Tennessee, but Dave and I met in Houston. We got married a year and a day later from the time we met."

"I had been in the hotel business for about 16 years, but Dave didn't like the hours I had to work.  When we got married, I went into the
vending business with him."

As stated earlier, Dave discovered expediting through the vending business and he explains his beginnings in the fast freight industry:
 
"In the mid-80's, I became involved in expediting as a sideline venture.  This was back in the early Roberts Express days and I owned everything from pickups with a little box and a small sleeper to pickups pulling flatbeds, kind of like the oil-equipment hauling 'hotshot' vehicles. I also had some box trucks - Hyundai's and GMC's. I had a pretty good deal with this guy from whom I leased the trucks with unlimited mileage."

Dave's fleet was a mixture of trucks he owned or leased.  He says that the lease situation was very effective:  "The lease trucks had a flat monthly rate and they took care of the maintenance, so all I would do is put oil in them.  I would lease them when they were a year or so old, run them for a couple of years and give them back to the leasing company. They were still able to sell them after I brought them back for not much less than they could have sold them for originally."

"I leased the trucks to a variety of companies - Suzy's Express, Bobtail Express, Nation's Express, Roberts Express, Tri-State and others. Some of the smaller carriers were involved in airfreight or freight forwarding.  Those companies were mainly Texas intercity loads
with not much interstate freight."

He adds, "During this time, I began to acquire more trucks as a fleet owner while I still worked in vending.  I would take the very occasional run. When someone would quit or a truck would be empty, I take a load."

Dave says that being a fleet owner had it's own set of challenges, particularly in dealing with the drivers and their troubles. 

"It was difficult to find people that wouldn't tear the truck up.  I was always getting calls like, 'I'm stuck in the mud' or 'I backed the truck into a dock and busted the top of the truck.'  The drivers would load the truck wrong, not secure the load and bust the back door.  I
can't tell you how many times that happened!"

"I had both singles and teams in my trucks.  I would find the drivers through word-of-mouth and some of the expedited carriers would find
drivers for me."

At the end of Dave's fleet ownership days, he had switched all of his trucks over to straight trucks and the fleet had grown to include 15
units.  It was a profitable venture, but obviously, qualified driver retention was a big problem.  For a number of years, he had continued to work full-time in vending as well as managing his growing fleet.

Grace picks up the story: "Dave was becoming burned out with the vending business, so he said, let's just go into expediting so we can
spend all of our time together."

Dave states, "We found a 1999 Kenworth for $50,000 that had 15,000 miles on it. The truck was set up as a race car hauler.  The guy that
built it thought he was going to be Dale Earnhart.  He took the truck, never made a payment on it and went bankrupt in three months.  It sat on the lot for a year."

"Grace and I were living in Texas at the time, so I had my brother, who lives in Michigan, drive to Indianapolis to take a video of it and give it a test drive.  He said it was a good deal, so I took advantage of it."

He continues, "The box had to be replaced because it was just tall enough to fit the race car in.  The truck had no landing gear and it
had an oversized lift gate to lift the car and that had to be removed. We had a Freightliner that I took the box off of and mounted on the KW.  It's an 18' foot box, but with Panther II, we can carry around 10,000 lbs. and receive those rates."

"This truck has a 300HP 3126 CAT, the engine everyone complains about. (Laughs).  I'm kind of in the middle on this issue.  We've had CAT's in the past and this one is coming up on 400,000 miles.  "We've had good luck with it." 

"Some people are real partial to the Cummins.  I've owned those before and was buried with problems with them.  I'm not so sure that it's as much the make of the motor as what day of the week it was built."

Dave's CAT is hooked to an Eaton 6-speed with overdrive and features a Kidron van body sitting just behind an ICT 126" sleeper.

"I figured we might as well expedite in comfort," says Dave.  "The big sleeper is a major reason this truck appealed to us.  It's got a Satellite TV, microwave, fridge, bathroom/shower, 2 beds, a chair, hot/cold running water, TruckGen generator and roof air."

"At the time we found this truck, we were looking to build a truck and were thinking about an ICT sleeper.  We saw this one and figured that at 50K, we couldn't go wrong.  We were close to making the commitment to buy a new truck when this one came along.  We've been real happy with it and I've made my money back from it.  It's a '99, so it's getting to the point where we might have to do some service"

"Even with this single axle, we can still scale around 10,000 lbs..  At first, I thought about putting a tag axle on it but we just don't carry
enough heavy loads to justify it.  Most of our loads are 2,000 or 3,000 pounds."

The expediting experience
"I've never done over-the-road trucking, so I have nothing to compare it with, but I enjoy expediting," says Grace. "When I first started
out, I was terrified, I was scared of driving a truck.  Now, it's OK, you get used to it."

"When I first started driving this truck, at the end of my shift, my knees would be shaking so badly that I couldn't stand for awhile.  The size of the vehicle bothered me the most.  I was so afraid I was going to hit somebody or something."

"I believe I was driving down I-81 one time when I realized that I had been driving for two hours and I hadn't been scared.  I said to myself, 'I can do this job.'  Dave and I try to work our shifts so that he will be behind the wheel at the pickups and/or deliveries so he can back the truck into the dock."

She continues, "One of our first runs together was from Ohio to Portland, Oregon, so that was a real learning experience.  After living in Houston for seven years, I hadn't seen a hill, let alone a
mountain!  Seeing the different countryside is wonderful."

"After two and a half years on the road, we've been from Maine to Miami to Brownsville, TX to San Diego to Portland.  My favorite part of the country is Texas and the plains.  I don't like the Pennsylvania Turnpike with no median and the oncoming headlights that hit you in the eyes."

"Canada is a breeze to get in and out.  With Panther II, and the PAPS and PARS, the paperwork's already done, so except for bridge traffic, it's not a problem."

"The last three years we've averaged around 135,000 miles a year.  We've worked 225 days so far this year."

Grace does the paperwork and truck bookkeeping for the couple and they use PBS Tax & Bookkeeping Service for tax preparation.  Over the past couple of years, she has developed her own spreadsheet that allows her to keep close track of the tax situation.

"It's very important to have someone with trucking tax knowledge to do the taxes and they can help you keep better records.  A lot of us aren't aware of all the deductions that are allowable.  With this computer spreadsheet, I can punch a button and tell you our cost per mile."

She adds, "The husband/wife team is probably the most lucrative way to work in expediting.  Dave and I make enough to pay the bills, contribute to a Roth IRA, pay for Health Insurance and put money aside as well."

Dave has long-standing rules by which he abides in running his business:

"You've got to understand what it costs to run your truck.  Knowing the cost-per-mile is essential to running your business profitably. So many owner-operators don't have a clue about what it costs to run their truck.  Be a businessman and a truck driver second."

He continues, "Tied to that is knowing when to accept a load.  You're dealing with someone (a dispatcher) who doesn't know trucking and you can't always trust their judgment about what is profitable for your truck. That's not their job to know that - it's their job to find you freight and it's the driver's job to determine whether he can haul the load at that price and turn a profit on it."

"It happens all the time that a company will call you up and say 'we have this load, can you help us out with it?'" 

"You have to be able to barter with them.  Now, a lot of times with a short load, you can't build more money into the load - there's no margin to play with.  You have to ask them to find a load to pick up after that short one.  You'd be surprised at what they have available."

"The whole key is to ask; they worst that will happen is they say no.  Because we're a team, we don't do a lot of short loads, but under the right circumstances, we will."

He adds, "Just like the vending business, there's not a lot of loyalty in trucking or expediting.  The carrier has to make money, but if they think you'll do it for nothing, then they're going to ask you to do it for nothing."

Some of Dave's other keys to success include:

*Always be professional in dealing with the company

*Be frugal, you can't be playing slot machines every time you stop your truck.

*Fuel economy - A driver doesn't need to be running 75 or 80 miles an hour.  At the end of a year, you find that you've thrown away thousands of dollars.

*Maintenance.  I do some of my own work, but only if it's cost-effective.  Take oil changes:  you can't do them yourself and be competitive with someone like Speedco." 

"By the time you cost it out - including disposal of the used oil, you're doing it at the same price.  Also, I don't scrimp on parts.  I'll go to the dealer and pay a little more.  I've had excellent results with Kenworth's service."

Dave gives Panther II high marks for it's willingness in allowing the owner-operator to find his own loads: 

"It's a common complaint among drivers that some companies will just leave you out in a dead area because they don't have an alternate source for loads."

"With Panther II, we can broker our own freight if we need to.  For example, were out in Topeka, KS and the company found us a brokered LTL load that didn't pay too badly - a dollar a mile.  That little load got us back to Illinois, so it worked out well."

"I think that Panther II is one of the best when you consider the fuel surcharge factored in.  If I'm strategic in my fuel buying, I can just about cover the cost of fuel with the surcharge alone.  Panther II also runs contracted rates which I think is a little more beneficial than tariffs or percentages."

He continues, "Panther II is willing  to go beyond my contracted rate on some short loads.  For example, the last time we were in the Northeast, we were offered a short load going to JFK, and at my regular rate.  I was reluctant to take it because of the cost of tolls out there, so the company bumped the money substantially."

"I don't do that every time, just when we are incurring extra costs to do the run. It's not just runs into that area.  Sometimes we'll turn down a load to Kansas or Oklahoma.  I'll build in my deadhead number to the total and I need to have this much.  At times, they can work with me, other times they can't."

The lifestyle
The Corfman's tell of their life on the road:
Dave: "We don't seem to have a lot of downtime anymore.  When we are stopped, we'll go out to eat or do the 'Wal-Mart wander'.  Or, we sleep."

"We have taken more time off in 2004, but we're still generating the same amount of money that we did in 2003.We've had some fabulous runs this year and we haven't had to worry about income that much."

Grace:  "We usually go out for two to three weeks, but we have an erratic schedule.  We'll shut down for 4 weeks in January and 2 to 3 weeks in July."

"We don't cook elaborate meals in the truck, but we'll microwave something.  We stay in the truck most of the time.  I've got everything I need in this sleeper so there's no incentive to get a room.  We don't like to have to drag the stuff in and out of a motel anyway.  Plus, we
travel with two female Pomeranians.  They're older dogs and they like traveling."

Thoughts on the business
"I think expediting is going to grow faster than the other areas of trucking simply because of the shortage of drivers," states Dave.  "Because of this, some companies are waiting ten days to get their freight moved by the regular long-haul companies." 

"The shippers might have to rely on the expedited carriers to move that freight.  It used to be that expediting did so much automotive freight, but we're not seeing so much of that and we're hauling loads from other industries."

"Expediting is moving into LTL loads, we've been running freight in and out of Averitt Trucking and at regular rates, too."

"When you get into line haul, LTL and some of those others, the competition is just so fierce that you still see a lot of broker freight that they're running for pennies on the dollar.  I think little by little, that will change because these companies are finding out that they've got 2000 trucks and they're only running 500 of them.  The only way we'll be able to find drivers for those is to jack the rates up."

"Expediting is a great niche of trucking and it's probably one of the few areas, short of heavy-hauling or electronics, that is pretty profitable if it's run right."

He concludes, "We've had a good 2004, and I think we'll do pretty well in 2005."

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