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Episode 26: Rethinking Trucking Standards with Joel Morrow of Alpha Drivers Testing & Consulting

Brent – 00:00:01:

Welcome to Freight Nation, a trucking podcast where we explore the fascinating world of trucking and freight management. We dive deep into the freight industry and uncover why the trucking industry is more crucial to our country now than ever before. Stay tuned to uncover the driving forces behind successful trucking businesses and hear from the hardworking truckers and leaders who keep the world moving. Let’s hit the road. Well, howdy Freight Nation. Hope everybody’s doing really great out there. I thank you for joining us for the next episode of Freight Nation, a truckstop.com podcast. We do this podcast because we want to tell the story of such great experience and great people inside of the trucking industry and the freight industry. So we’re very excited about always bringing you a really great content and such interesting characters. And boy, today, do we have one of the best in the industry. I got to meet Joel a few years ago, and we’ve kind of reconnected a little bit. And I’m so excited to have today joining us on Freight Nation, Joel Morrow, who is the CEO of Alpha Drivers Testing and Consulting. He’s a lot more than that, but that’s what he’s currently doing. And our goal today is for you to really learn about his journey and learn about what he does to make trucks really, really efficient and make them produce the best for each and every person that drives them. So, man, Joel, I’m so excited. Thank you for joining us on Freight Nation today.

Joel – 00:01:22:

Thanks for having me, Brent.

Brent – 00:01:23:

Yeah, you’re so welcome, man. Freight Nation, there’s a few people in the industry that I like, admire, I like to read about, I like to know their journey. Joel is one of those guys because he’s always about improving. You can just see it. It just comes out of him and everything he talks about, how he talks about it and his journey in trucking. So today is a real treat for you, Freight Nation, out there. And I appreciate you guys joining us, whether you’re watching the video or you’re just watching the audio version. You’re going to get a lot of information today, and you’re going to hear a great story. The thing that I always like to start with. Joel, is everybody takes a really unique path into freight transportation, into trucking, as they say. And yours was really, really cool. I’d love for you to start with, how did you actually get into driving a truck?

Joel – 00:02:05:

So my father and actually my grandmother, before him, they had a recycling company. And we had trucks to service our customers. And I just loved driving the trucks, even when I was very young, driving the trucks around the yard in the droplet, you know, moving trailers around, putting them in the dock and switching things out. I guess that’s how I caught the bug. I just really, really enjoyed it. As my dad got a little older, retired, and there were some EPA challenges with recycling at that time, where I decided I was just going to take one of the trucks that the business had used and take it out on the road and go. It was a great experience. I loved it. I loved being out on the road. I loved driving. I loved everything about it. Kind of an outlaw at first, I guess, like everybody, young and dumb. How are we all? Well, you know, it was the whole swindle Sheet thing into multiple logbooks. I’m not real proud of that, but I did go through that period. And it really taught me a lot. It taught me that just working hard was not enough. It was very apparent to me after about two or three years of that, that this is a ticket to the poor house and a good way to ruin your health. And so I really got serious at that point, trying to figure out how do we do this so it makes sense and it provides a decent lifestyle and a decent income.

Brent – 00:03:22:

Yeah, man. Well, look, one of the great things about your story is you’ve taken all that experience and you continue to improve in what you’re doing. So Freight Nation, listen to this, man. Joel, he’s accomplished so much. Four million miles driving, probably more than that now. Two-time Top 50 Green Fleet Award winner. He was the 2018 Heavy Duty Trucking Innovator of the Year. He’s a 2017 NACFE Run on Less participant. And you can talk a little bit more about that. And so there’s so many things that because you’ve kind of continued to kind of, like you said, improve yourself and continue to improve your business, improve your approach to it. But you said something to me. This is kind of what stuck out to me when you just started talking about this, Joel. You said you got serious about it. Tell me, what does that look like?

Joel – 00:04:07:

I guess what that means to me, very early on, I learned the difference between gross and net, not only in finance terms, but in terms of like speed management. In terms of time management. And these are terms that we struggle with in the industry as far as owner operators and small fleets. Everybody likes to look at their gross. Very few people actually know their net. And that applies both financially and operationally. And when I started to really drill down on that, it became a challenge to me. And I just loved it. And my dad was always a penny pincher. And oh, yeah, he always had used equipment that was really old and he was a penny pincher and, you know, you’d mow the lawn and you didn’t let that lawnmower run one minute longer than it had to before you shut it down. You didn’t want to have to buy the gas for that type of thing. So. That was kind of bred into my DNA a little bit, I suppose, looking for that efficiency. I guess when I first started, it was everybody watched the Smokey and the Bandit movies and that type of thing and Proud Laws. And it was a cool thing. And I was young and that is how I started, but quickly learned that it is a dead end path and started to learn about, you know, it’s just so important. The whole differentiation between gross and net and understanding the difference there. And it’s just amazing the people that we talk to in the industry out here on the road and the truck stops and they talk in terms of gross on everything and nobody knows the net or the real numbers that are important. And so I got very, very serious about that because I understood that was going to drive my success down the road.

Brent – 00:05:48:

Okay, let’s get a timestamp on this thing. What year did you start driving a truck?

Joel – 00:05:53:

We’ll go back to high school. I’ll tell you what I’ve done is my dad managed his recycling company. I bought a one-ton Chevy truck, and I had a 16-foot Owens Triaxial electric dump trailer that I put together. And I was hauling waste to the landfill with that. And I was putting a boatload of miles on that thing. I loved doing it. And then I started picking up pallets for people when I wasn’t running stuff to the landfill. And I was running all over. I probably put 250,000 miles on that one-ton Chevy truck. So I guess I probably started, we’re going to say, 85, 86-ish. And I finally got into a real semi-truck. My dad had a lot of in-state stuff that we were doing. So it wasn’t a CDL back then. It was a chauffeur’s license. I got my chauffeur’s license and got into a 1968 International Cabover Day Cab, 318 Detroit with a nine-speed.

Brent – 00:06:53:

Did you say 68?

Joel – 00:06:55:

Yeah, 1968. Yeah, well, we’d had it forever. He bought it almost new in 68. And he’d run everything until you could not run it anymore. And we rolled this thing to the shop, and it was past its due date. And we put her back together again. And that’s when I started my first truck that I actually ran out on the road, it was a 1968 International. Air assist steering, air wipers, steel interior, all the old-school stuff in that truck. And it was fun. I loved it. I absolutely loved it when I got in that truck. And it was the biggest piece of crap on the road. But you know what? I was doing it, and I loved it.

Brent – 00:07:33:

Yeah. All right, so let me pause you just for a second. Two things. Number one, I’ve been in trucking for about 26, 27 years. And in trucking, what always cracks me up in trucking is the trucking industry says the word industry two different ways. It says industry and industry. I noticed that you say industry. So I’m like, where do you draw the line on industry and industry?

Joel – 00:07:56:

All right. Well, you know, from my background coming out of recycling, it’s always been connected for me. So I don’t know. It’s just always been that way, I guess, when I think back on it. In the beginning, it was always connected to an industry that we were serving as direct customers. I think that’s probably why they say it that way, I suppose.

Brent – 00:08:19:

I remember back many years ago, I got into the trucking industry in 1998. And I remember in 1999, there was the chairman of the ATA. He used to say industry. I was like, why is there a difference like finance and finance? I don’t know. When you and I were talking, the first company you worked with your dad, it was Morrow and Sons, which I got to work with my dad for a few years. And we argued like crazy. Now, I’m like 5’11 at my best, okay, 185 pounds. My dad was 6’5″, 230, ex-professional football player. But we worked together. So it was really fun working with my dad. Before we continue to talk about the trucking industry or industry, talk a little bit about working with your dad and what that was like. Because, I mean, a lot of people in this industry get to do that. And so that’s such a cool thing. Talk about working with your dad. What were some of the highs and lows on that?

Joel – 00:09:09:

They’re four brothers. And actually, my grandmother started the recycling business. He worked with her. So this was a multi-generational family.

Brent – 00:09:18:

You were third generation, yeah.

Joel – 00:09:20:

Yeah, that we’d went through on the recycling side of things. As far as the recycling part of it went. My dad was very well versed on that. And I wasn’t going to argue with anything. The truck were always an afterthought. And we had our share arguments about that. There’s no question about it. You know, you love to work with family and then you hate it all at the same time. You know, you’re like, oh man, I wish I was doing something else. So when I had the chance to take the truck out on the road, I just came to him and said, look, the whole recycling thing’s winding down. There was an old Ford cab over setting out back, a CL9000. I said, just let me take that truck and go. He goes, get the hell out of here. So we went, and it was great. Now I’m out on my own. I leased the truck to Chem Leaman, which had turned to TransPlastics, which I’m not even sure what their name is now.

Brent – 00:10:09:

Did you say Chem Leaman?

Joel – 00:10:10:

Yes, Chem Lehman.

Brent – 00:10:12:

When I first started in this industry, Chemical Leaman was one of my first companies to call on.

Joel – 00:10:16:

They screw work. So I worked for them for a while. That was all chemicals, hazmat stuff, learned a ton, went through a bunch of schools. And that’s where I really started to discover I love to challenge myself. You know, give me the most dangerous acid or chemical you had. And, you know, I wanted to do that. And done fairly well there. And then I got interested in food grade stuff, and I transferred over to Bulkmatic and ended up getting five or six trucks actually running at Bulkmatic. Was doing very well there. Then my brother called me and he said, hey, look, we’re getting our operating authority and we’re going to buy some drive-ins. You want to come back home? And I thought about it and I said, yeah, I will. Let’s do this. So I was able when I went back home to really just focus the technology and efficiency part. We knew that’s what we needed to survive. We had no economies of scale working for us. And it’s kind of odd because in the very beginning, what drew me back home was I knew they needed the efficiency and the technology. And then why I kind of made the step away, they would grow into such a point where it was becoming more economies of scale, more a human resources thing than an efficiency thing. And that’s not my game. And so then I got into the alpha drivers and whatnot a little bit later down the road. But I always loved the challenge of how can I be efficient and productive. Because everybody tells you, well, you can’t do it. You can’t do that. So it’s just been really fun, the whole thing, and I’ve loved it.

Brent – 00:11:52:

Yeah. Well, that’s cool. So when your brother called you, they purchased another fleet out there. Is that correct?

Joel – 00:11:58:

So what had happened initially, it was Morrow and Sons. After I came back home, obviously, it’s a family thing. There were disagreements. My dad and my older brothers, they wanted to do things old school. This was right very, very early when they weren’t even really called ELDs. They were onboard logging devices, as you ever recall and me and my younger brother were wanting to implement those into the fleet at a very, very early stage. And they were like, no, no, no, we don’t want to do anything like that. Of course, the electronic engines were just coming out and they wanted to stay all old school mechanical. And you could just tell this wasn’t going to work. And so my brother’s wife had actually bought a small freight forwarding company, Plogger Freight Forwarding. And we knew things weren’t going to work. We made the split and we started Plogger Transportation. I specced the very first truck for Plogger and drove the very first truck for Plogger. And we ran, I don’t know, three, four years. And then we ended up buying my dad and my older brother out. And it’s been upward and onward since. It’s just been really, really good.

Brent – 00:13:08:

Yeah, fantastic. So you guys up and onward with Ploger and you were the front end. But there’s a couple other unique things that happened with getting into Ploger and everything, because I want to kind of continue on the family line thing, because you were third generation. But there’s also a fourth generation working with you as well. I know that your daughter Haley and your stepson and your nephew, you’re kind of helping to train and coach them as well. So before we jump into that, I mean, I’m ready to talk about Alpha Drivers and about where everything goes on there. But let’s talk a little bit about just how you’re coaching up your daughter and your stepson and then your nephew on this industry.

Joel – 00:13:47:

So I have not pushed this on them at all. I thought if they want to come into the business, it’s going to be their own free will, because if I have to beg and push and scream and yell, it’s not going to be pretty. I just wanted this to be of their own free will. And they all had different jobs. Travis was military for six years. He came out of the military and he decided he wanted to drive truck right away. And I trained him up and he had actually worked for Ploger for five or six years. And now he’s with me at Alpha Drivers and we team drive a lot. Haley’s worked in a few factories and she decided she doesn’t like a boss hoggering over her shoulder. And she’s like, Dad, get me out of here. Let’s go do something. So we’ve done that. Connor, very similar situation. Haley and Connor are very close in age and a lot of the same experiences. You know, they’ve been out in the real world working factory jobs and just decided they didn’t like the grind in the factory. And Marshall, which is my brother’s boy, he is just multi, multi talent. He’s a lot like my brother. He’s very good with mechanical things. It comes very natural to him. He ran the overhead on my truck that, you know, is pretty cool for a high school kid who can just buster open. And I mean, he had it set just perfect. We run a cylinder balance test afterwards and it was as good as set as anybody’s done. So he’s got a special touch when it comes to that. He loves to drive as well. He’s got the bug. So he can’t wait to get his license. You know, just turning 18 next month. He’s going to have a CDL as soon as he turns 18. And of course, he can’t wait to get out on the road. And. It’ll be interesting to see when he does get his license, if he gets out there and it tampers down a little bit, or if he takes off and runs with it. No, it’s been great bringing the fourth generation into the mix on both my brother’s side and my side. I feel real good about it. They’re all motivated, and Trav’s been doing it for a while now, and he’s very happy with his career choice and the choice he’s made in life. He’s done very well for himself.

Brent – 00:15:54:

That’s exciting to see. You know, I get to talk to a lot of people inside the trucking marketplace, and a lot of them are not encouraging. Their families or children to be a part of trucking. And it’s really good to hear that I realize you’re not forcing them, which is super cool, right? I mean, that’s the kind of what you really want them to grab ahold of it themselves, but you’re right there. You’re not saying, Hey, don’t do this. You’re saying, Hey, look, this is something you want to do. Let me show you how to create success on it.

Joel – 00:16:18:

So one of the things I think that drives this, I kind of have a different viewpoint that a lot of people do when it comes to wages and earnings in the trucking industry. For so long, we’ve been paid by the mile and we give away a lot of time at loading docks. When we paid by the mile, you’re kind of forced to take risks and chances that you normally wouldn’t because you want to preserve paycheck. And several years ago, even while I was still at Ploger, me and my brother would have these hypothetical talks. I said, there’s got to be a better way to do this. There has to be time value attached to wages. And so when I finally did get the chance to get out on my own, one of the very first things I’d done was, that there’s going to be time value here. So I have a unique pay structure where we pay by the hour with overtime and by the mile. So we’re at $22 an hour, 22 cents a mile, and they get overtime past 40. In order to implement something like this, you have to be extremely efficient to pay your employees in that manner. And the combination of attaching value to your employees’ time and the extreme efficiencies that we drive, really make this a good job. It really does. You’ll be hard pressed without a college degree to go to work and do as well as what these kids are going to be able to do when they get out there in the real world. So it’s kind of cool to watch how over the years, all the things I’ve learned about efficiency, we can drive this into a pay package that really benefits people on the other. And I love that nowadays that you’re really helping people. And I’m sure I’ll expand beyond my kids and family at some point and drive us into the mix. But it’s a good feeling to see that, hey, this really works. And I love that.

Brent – 00:18:04:

Well, that’s interesting. I have been watching over the past three to four years, a real increase in the conversation about. Swapping from a per mile pay to a time pay. And I think now that we’ve got ELDs completely in the marketplace, Joel, I think you’re going to end up seeing that eventually because your time has to be paid for. And so it’s good to hear that you’re already ahead of the game. You’re already thinking about that from a small business standpoint on how you can keep and attract the people that you need, the resources that you need, and the driver, the capacity that you need by actually paying them by time. I think that’s incredible.

Joel – 00:18:40:

Yeah. Time value is absolutely essential. You know, we have this argument within the industry. Do we have a driver shortage problem? We do not. We have a pay problem. And as long as we’re paying by the mile. And drivers are not being fairly compensated for their time, we are going to continue to have a driver shortage. And I think we’re going to continue to have probably a safety issue as well, where we see these mega pileups because guys cannot afford to pull the truck over when the weather’s bad. They just can’t. Yeah, I get paid by the mile. If the truck ain’t moving, I’m not making money. To me, that should never be allowed to happen. I started out as an outlaw. I had to swindle sheets. I’d done all the things that guys done back then to run those miles. It’s bad for your health. It’s bad for safety. It’s bad for driver retention. And the industry has to look at itself and say, hey, we’ve got to be fair with the drivers and we got to get this right. And time value, however you decide to attach value to the driver’s time, it needs to happen.

Brent – 00:19:40:

Yeah. Well, I think we’d agree with you too. And we would agree that there is a perception there is a truck driver shortage, but in reality, it’s kind of a lot of what you started Alpha Drivers for, which is it’s really an efficiency issue.

Joel – 00:19:51:

Absolutely. It’s very hard for fleets to drive those efficiencies and then pass along that money to the driver where it should be. They rely on economies of scale. And when you rely on economies of scale and you don’t drive the efficiencies, then the wages and how you can pay wages suffers. And there’s a disconnect there. People don’t quite see that. And I’ve been working with this for probably four or five years now, and I see it very clearly. And I think the industry really needs to sit down, have an honest conversation about this and just stop with the pay by mile. It just needs to stop.

Brent – 00:20:27:

Yeah, I can see that. I definitely can. And like I said, I’ve been talking about this quite a bit inside of the market, which is when you can measure something, you can get compensated for it. One of the problems with not being able to get measured for, say, detention time or. Traffic time or parking time or all the things that go into the challenges now that we have ELDs, because you can measure it. Now with ELDs, you can measure it. And so when time can be justified by actual data, then we’re not far from spinning into the hours being compensated for.

Joel – 00:20:58:

And it’ll be great when it happens. The other part of the equation is, look, we are regulated by the hour and paid by the file. That is a recipe for disaster.

Brent – 00:21:07:

Oh, that’s it. Yeah, you’re so right on that.

Joel – 00:21:10:

Yeah. Yeah. When you live it.

Brent – 00:21:12:

I’m going to write that one down, regulated by the hour and paid by the mile. All right. So let’s swap topics real quick. I want to get into. All right. So there was a moment that you decided, okay, I’ve got to dedicate time. I’ve got to dedicate my focus to starting something that’s going to really be something that can change someone’s business structure. Well, starting with their efficiency. So where was the moment? Where were you? And what was the moment that you said, I’m starting Alpha Drivers?

Joel – 00:21:41:

Well, here’s kind of what happened. I’m an efficiency nut. And anytime we have to make decisions that kind of push back on the efficiency levels that we had achieved, it’s irritating.

Brent – 00:21:53:

It probably shouldn’t be, but it is.

Joel – 00:21:56:

So I can remember coming in, sitting down, and we were talking about the fleet, Ploger We need to raise the speed limit in the trucks. And I said, no, we don’t. And they said, yeah, we do for driver retention and for recruiting purposes. So at the time they decided to do it, it kind of made some sense because we were in an up market, fuel’s relatively cheap. It did make some sense. And I was making the argument, this market will not stay up indefinitely. And when it doesn’t, and we’ve made this move, it’s going to be painful. And then I got to thinking about it. Look, this is a big fleet that is, it’s growing and it’s getting bigger. And it’s more about economies of scale and human resources. And it becomes very difficult to manage efficiency. The bigger the fleet, the harder it is to stay efficient. And I just decided at that point that I love the efficiency part. There’s a group of engineers that I love working with at different OEMs. And I can leverage this into something that will be very helpful to owner operators and small fleets. The problem was, how was I going to monetize this? How was I going to live? Because look, these owner operators and small fleets, they can’t afford to spend a couple hundred bucks an hour on a consultant to come in and tell them how to fix things. So I got the idea. Look, I’m going to work with these OEMs. They’re going to pay me for my services. And I’m going to give the information free to the owner operators and the small fleets to the degree that I can. And that’s what I’ve been doing through social media. And it’s working very well. I mean, it’s great for the OEMs because it creates a following that’s looking at their product and they seem to be comfortable with it. I work very hard on my content because I don’t want to get too crazy out there, but I’m still willing to argue with a skeptical person every now and again when they want to call me out on certain things. And I do data very well. I’ve hired a partner that he’s got a couple of degrees and he’s a data nut and he is just excellent between the two of us. We can put some data down. It’s fun. And I enjoy the interaction out in social media. I love talking to the drivers, whether they’re skeptical or not. It doesn’t make any difference to me. I’ll talk to a very skeptical person or a believer. You know, I love to have that discussion either way. So that’s kind of how things went. I knew that where I was at, I wasn’t bringing as much value to the company as I was in the beginning when we were small and had to have that efficiency in order to survive. You know, as we transitioned into that economy, a scale model at Ploger, I just thought, you know what? I want to take my experience that I’ve gathered over the years and leverage this to help other people out.

Brent – 00:24:44:

That’s super cool. So you’re working at the manufacturing level, but you’re communicating at the owner operator, small fleet level. What are those structure points for your business on what you’re trying to determine and then communicate? To those owner operators and small fleets, where’s the value benefit in all this?

Joel – 00:25:00:

So I’ve been fortunate that I’ve had some very close relationships with some engineers at very high levels. And I have certain areas that I am just super interested in. One of them is a six by two configured trucks. I absolutely love that. And downsped powertrains.

Brent – 00:25:19:

That’s a big sentence. Now, say that again. Down what?

Joel – 00:25:23:

Downsped powertrains.

Brent – 00:25:26:

We’ll write that one down, too. Downsped powertrains.

Joel – 00:25:29:

Yep. These are two areas that I just absolutely enjoy working in and I love. And they bring huge value to owner operators of small fleets that understand these concepts. The problem is it’s difficult to get your mind around. And people remain very wary and skeptical. You know that six by two configured trucks have been tried a couple of times in the market here in North America. And it’s failed every time it’s been tried. I like to think I know exactly why. And I think I like to think. I know how to fix the issues that plagued the early six by twos. You know, that 1968 International that I had, that was a six by two.

Brent – 00:26:07:

Yeah. They’ve been six by two has been around for a while.

Joel – 00:26:10:

It has been. I mean, that goes back to the 30s and 40s. Actually, the concept does.

Brent – 00:26:15:

Yes.

Joel – 00:26:16:

And so there’s subject matter that I like and I enjoy working on. And I know it brings a lot of value to the owner operators. And then it also brings a lot of value to the OEMs that I’m working with to get the real world feedback, not only from the marketplace, but I’m out on the road every day still. For the most part, I’m not running 140,000 miles a year like I used to, but I’m still running 100,000 miles a year. So I have a unique perspective. I’ve been at the fleet level to the point where it becomes economies of scale. I’ve been at the small fleet level. I’ve been at the owner operator level. And we’ll be sitting around a table with a bunch of people discussing certain concepts, ideas, components, and I’d like to think I bring some value to the table when I can throw out perspective that they’re not used to hearing. And, you know, you can see the light bulbs go off a lot of times. And I enjoy that too when I’m working with a group of engineers who everybody at the table is smarter than I am. And they just don’t have the perspective or the time behind the wheel. And I’m going to call him an elite engineer that I worked with. I respect the man immensely. He told me very early on, an engineer is only as good as their feedback. And he said, without that feedback, he said, I cannot do my job. And he goes, this is why you’re so important to me. And we forged that relationship. And he’s long since retired, but we talk on a pretty regular basis, which is really cool. So I’m just thrilled to be where I’m at. And I love doing what I do. And it’s been a fun ride.

Brent – 00:27:48:

Yeah. So I know that you work with several OEMs. I know one of them is. Volvo. I think that you work with a couple of other ones. Who else do you work with? And then do me a favor, explain the 6.2 configuration because there’s some in the industry that may not know what that means.

Joel – 00:28:01:

Okay. So just real quick, who I’m working with, there’s Volvo. That’s OEM I cut my teeth with. That’s who I first started with. I’ve been doing some field test work for BASF. They do some low viscosity lubricants and stuff. They make the components that the oil companies buy and then they put their name on them and sell them. So you don’t go to a truck stop and buy BASF oil. You’ll buy Mobil or Shell and they’ll have BASF components in it. So I do a lot of field test work for BASF. We do a lot of field test work for Dana Spicer. Some smaller people like Hot Shot Secret, they’re a smaller kind of a boutique oil blending company in Ohio and they make fuel treatment and some specialty synthetic oils and stuff. And that’s been a great relationship. The folks that make the AirDog fuel filtration system that I run on my truck, another small, small company out of Missouri that make a hell of a product that works really well. I like to work on both ends of the spectrum. I enjoy the contact with the big mega companies. I also like working with the small family owned little companies when they have good products. I think it’s important that we test them and use them and see what we can do with them. So six by two, basically you have six wheel end positions, two are powered on a standard tandem truck. Now that powered axle can be the rear of the tandem or the front of the tandem, depending if it’s a tag or a pusher configuration. The non-powered axle can be liftable or it can stay on the ground all the time. We refer to that as dead axle. Some of the new trucks you see will have weight biasing features. So we actually transfer weight by lifting the dead axle up and we can push weight around on the chassis up to the steer axle, back on the drive axle. This is something that I’ve spent the last 15 years working very, very hard to get that weight biasing suspension to work for North American markets in the correct fashion. To this day, we’re still making improvements and learning about it. Every time I go out, I learn something new.

Brent – 00:30:18:

When I read about it, I thought, oh, God, that’s brand new. And then I realized, no, it’s actually a very old configuration.

Joel – 00:30:24:

Yes, it is.

Brent – 00:30:24:

And it makes a lot of sense efficiently. You just got to be able to make sure the application is working correctly.

Joel – 00:30:31:

We have to think in a different mindset. I like to say we have a six by four mindset in the United States because that is the predominant axle configuration where we have two powered axles in the back and a power divider and what everybody’s kind of familiar with. It is not most efficient and it’s not even the best for traction. When you have a correctly configured weight biasing six by two, you can have better tractive potential on highway than a six by four. And people struggle with the concept there of the weight biasing and shifting weight. And it is a little bit complicated to understand. But once you do understand it, it’s great for efficiency. It really, really drives efficiency.

Brent – 00:31:15:

Well, I was looking at some of your numbers and one of your recent posts that you did on LinkedIn was talking about all of your mileage last year. And you even talked about the different geographic areas that you ran and they’re not all flat.

Joel – 00:31:28:

No, no.

Brent – 00:31:30:

Because, I think somebody questioned you on, oh, well, what was that terrain like? And you said, well, let me show you the data. And so I think you were averaging over 10 miles a gallon. Is that correct?

Joel – 00:31:41:

10.4 on 167,000 miles lifetime currently. 2023, I ran 108,888 miles. 17% of those miles were the Pacific Northwest. 24% of the miles were in Appalachian State. So 41-ish percent of the time, we were in challenging areas for fuel efficiency.

Brent – 00:32:06:

Yeah, that’s super cool. Well, I tell you, I appreciate you talking about that because it’s nice to talk about it. It’s nice to say, well, this is what we’re doing. This is how we’re doing it. But everybody wants to see where the rubber meets the road. They want to see, okay, Mr. Efficiency, show me. You can show somebody that you’ve averaged over 10 miles for each gallon of fuel. I remember you said one of the big things to understand is that fuel efficiency goes where?

Joel – 00:32:33:

Directly to the bottom line.

Brent – 00:32:35:

Yeah. I want you to say that again and then explain that because, honestly, for every owner-operator, Freight Nation, if you’re an owner-operator or you’re a small fleet owner, we at Truckstop and Joel at Alpha really want you to get this. I mean, this is one of the most important things you can put in your business and start to understand how you can really create the most success. So, Joel, jump in there.

Joel – 00:32:56:

Absolutely. So, fuel efficiency goes directly to the bottom line. You’re not taking anything out of that savings. So, this is one of the big arguments I get. I don’t care about fuel efficiency because I’m just going to run a few more loads and make it up. It does not work. It never will. And this is when we talked earlier gross and net. This is the disconnect. Everybody looks at gross earnings. Well, look at how much I grossed over these two weeks and you grossed X amount less. You’re only keeping about 20%, 25% of that maybe for most people of that gross. Now, when you look at your net versus the fuel savings, the picture isn’t so pretty anymore. You’re not doing as well as what you thought you were because you’re looking at everything from gross. And it’s the same thing with speed. I have this argument all the time. I will screenshot the display in my truck and it shows an overall total average. And normally, that average speed, depending on what I’m doing, will be anywhere between 46 mile an hour and 52 to 53 mile an hour. That’s where that speed comes in at. Everybody’s like, oh, you’re holding up traffic and you’re driving slow. No, I am not because that is the net speed. You are looking at gross speed, the cruise control set speed. So a guy will leave the yard. He’ll make his way to the highway. He’ll get on the highway. He’ll set his cruise control. And then he’ll say, see, I averaged 70 miles an hour from year to year. Now add in all that time getting to the highway, unloading, loading, stopping at fuel, all those things. It would be great to be able to just discard them and not worry about it. But that’s reality right there. And that has huge impacts on your average. So guys are just kidding themselves when they think, oh, I’m going to average 62 or 64 mile an hour. Look, there are dedicated lanes in the western states. I get it. Maybe you’re running from Cheyenne to Lincoln, Nebraska or something, something like that. Straight shot, little traffic, 75 mile an hour speed limit. If you want to drive that fast. Sure, you can do it. But is it the best idea? Generally, it’s not. Even though your gross revenue may be higher, it’s not about what we make. It’s about what we keep. That’s just the bottom line. It’s about what you keep. Sure, there’s going to be a lot of people that are going to out-gross me. Very few are going to out-net me. And do you really want to work that hard? This is what I learned early on when I was an outlaw, my gross were huge when I was doing the outlaw thing. I was going broke. Maintenance goes up. Here’s something that we found internally. So we know that slowing down saves fuel. I mean, it’s huge. But we see a 42% reduction in maintenance costs from 75 to 60 mile an hour. When we slow down, you have 42% overall reduction in maintenance costs. And with the new trucks, you always have the potential for the catastrophic emissions failure that’s just going to cost a fortune. You reduce that potential catastrophic failure when you slow down as well. So there’s a lot of reasons behind fuel efficiency to slow down. And obviously, your gross revenue is important to a certain degree, but it cannot be your single-minded focus. You’ve got to know your numbers. You’ve got to know what the net is, and not just financially when it comes to time and speed management as well. And when you start to understand that, things start to get really good. Even in this down market, things are still really good if you understand those concepts.

Brent – 00:36:38:

Yeah. Joel, this is the first time I’ve ever heard anybody put a percentage to speed and maintenance costs. So you said 42%. So Freight Nation, he didn’t say 42%. He said 42%. And guess what? If you’re not having to spend that on repairing the vehicle, that’s cash in your pocket for a better Christmas, a better vacation, taking more time off, and maybe buying something you like for your truck. So there’s all kinds of things.

Joel – 00:37:10:

Yeah. You know you’re going to hear a lot of people go, oh, that’s BS. Well, listen, if you account for your downtime during those repairs, and we account $1,250 today when a truck’s down. If you account for your downtime, it’s 42%. It just is. It’s huge. Just like you’re saying, there’s so many things. And it’s not just how it improves your whole life if you’re an owner operator, but it also improves your business because your customer service gets better. You have less service failures. If you have drivers that are working for you, drivers hate it when they’re broke down on the side of the road. Absolutely hate that. They’re not making any money because they’re getting paid by the mile, right? And broke down. And so speed is an illusion. And you really have to get your mind around what’s going on in reality. And so many people don’t want to look at it in reality. You know, they’re just like, look, trucks get six and a half miles a gallon. You go as fast as you can go everywhere you can go, and you’re going to be fine. It may work that way in an up cycle. And we were in a very long up cycle. So a lot of guys that got in right at the beginning of that up cycle, it’s worked for them. And it’s just kind of the opposite where we have the high fuel prices. We have outrageous labor costs. Now your downtime is just going to absolutely kill you. They don’t know what to do now. They’re like, oh, it’s the end of trucking. It’s the end of the world. No, it’s not. Everything works fine when you understand that speed is kind of an illusion. It’s trickery, really. I mean, it’s really hard to get your mind around. But once you do, when we do have down cycles, I don’t want to say it’s easy to navigate down cycles, but they become much more. Manageable when we understand.

Brent – 00:38:52:

It’s interesting. You just said something that reminds me of my and your good friend, Kevin Rutherford. He says it all the time. He’s like, I know it’s a down cycle, but actually it’s not a bad time to get into the market.

Joel – 00:39:04:

You’re 100% right. If you get into the market and you understand the difference between gross and net, and you understand how to manage time and speed.

Brent – 00:39:14:

it’s a great time to get in.

Joel – 00:39:15:

It truly is. Because there’s so many people falling to the wayside right now. Obviously, this market at some point is going to come back up. And if you’re on the ground floor and you understand these concepts, you’re going to have a really nice ride up. And then when it goes back down again, you’re going to be fine. So this is how small fleets and owner operators survive. It’s efficiency, efficiency, efficiency, understanding these basic concepts. If you don’t understand this, you will do okay in an up market, but you’re going to struggle when the market turns. And they always turn. They never stay up. And everybody’s like, oh, it’s such a bloodbath. It’s such a bloodbath right now. Well, it’s because I think we were in such a good market for a prolonged period of time. And I think that’s why we’re in such a good market for a period. And we had so many inexperienced people come in that, well, you know, as well as I do back in the day, what happened every time fuel prices went up, the big fleet slowed the trucks down. You don’t see that anymore. Doesn’t happen really anymore. I mean, think about it. And they’ll say, well, it’s because we got to retain drivers and this and that. People don’t have the common sense that we had back then in a lot of ways, I think. And especially when it comes to net and gross and time and speed management, we’ve kind of lost our way. A lot of it goes back to the pay by the mile, you know, the company driver, nope, you pay me by the mile. I’m going as fast as I can go, I don’t want to work for you. We’ve got a lot of challenges within the industry that’s driven these kind of speed cures all myth type of thing. And I don’t know, I’m starting to rail a little bit, but it can be very, very good if you understand how to manage speed and time and you understand the difference between that and gross. I guess that’s the main message here. Understand these four things and you’re going to do well.

Brent – 00:41:00:

Right. Well, for sure, man, that’s absolutely right. So, all right, I want to close on this because you have a super cool truck. I love the name Purple Haze. All right. So tell the Freight Nation watchers and listeners a little bit about Purple Haze.

Joel – 00:41:14:

So that is my kind of brainchild here. I’ve incorporated just about everything that I know into this truck. It is an aggressively downsped powertrain. It is a six by two. It does have weight biasing suspension. I’m working with the big OEMs and I’m working with a small amount of pops. Everybody that’s got a good idea has kind of come. And we put this truck together and it is succeeding really beyond my wildest dreams. I mean, I never thought I would average in, you know, almost ten and a half over one hundred and almost seventy thousand miles. Now, Purple Haze too, is coming. Have some significant upgrades. I’m hoping to have it by the fall if everything goes right. And I’m hoping to see 11 miles a gallon of that truck.

Brent – 00:42:03:

That’s fantastic. Now, who’s winning in the mileage war? You or Henry Albert?

Joel – 00:42:08:

It’s a day-to-day thing. We go back and forth. He’s a little better at some points. Henry Albert’s a great guy. He is a competitor. We have a lot of fun with it behind the scenes personally. He’s good people and he is an asset to the industry. And he is one of the guys that if you don’t believe what I’m saying, go look at Henry. He’s doing almost the exact same thing. There’s more than one out here doing it and he’s great for the industry. And I met him several years ago and the relationship’s been great. And I love the competition. Volvo Freightliner, you know, it’s cool. It’s fun.

Brent – 00:42:44:

I tell you, it makes everybody better. So I appreciate all that you and Henry are doing. Henry and I became close friends. I call him my best trucker friend out there because I’ve known him since he was the Overdrive Owner Operator of the Year back in the early 2000s. And he’s just a salt of the earth. He only wants to help make trucking better for everybody. And you know what, Joel? The great thing about you is that you’re the same guy, which is you just want to make it better for everybody because we all know that when there’s profits, when there’s success, you get to do what you love to do as a truck driver, which is to drive the truck. And be free and see America and just enjoy your life. And so that’s one of the coolest things about what you’re doing.

Joel – 00:43:23:

It’s great to be out on the road. It’s great to be free and go see all these things when you don’t have a bunch of debt and financial obligation hanging over your head. That stress kills people. It just does. And when you’re out on the road, it’s even worse because at that point you’re away from family and friends and you can’t really enjoy the view at hand at that point. And understanding the business part of it, knowing your numbers, understanding some basic concepts goes a long way towards really driving success in the industry today. A lot of people will tell you, oh, trucking’s dead. It’s over with. And it’s downturn. It is not. And if you understand these simple concepts, you’re going to do very, very well.

Brent – 00:44:07:

Man, wiser words have never been said. What a joy to be with you today, Joel. Thank you so much for giving your wisdom and your counsel to the Freight Nation watchers and listeners, man. Really appreciate you being on with us today.

Joel – 00:44:19:

I look forward to doing it again. I had a good time.

Brent – 00:44:22:

Well, I’ll tell you what, we’re definitely going to have you back. And as I said, we’re going to work closer with Joel in what he does to help all owner operators succeed. We here at Truck Stop, that’s what we’re dedicated to. That’s why we started back in 1995 was to give all the data, the information to the carrier so they can make decisions to run their own business by themselves. So, ma’am, Joel, thank you again for being on for us. Freight Nation, that’s a wrap for another great episode. I know you benefited from this one, Freight Nation. Absolutely. Because, man, this is just high level, basically great stuff. So, really appreciate it. And Freight Nation, thanks for joining. Thanks for watching. Thanks for listening. And don’t forget to work hard, to be kind and stay humble. Thanks a lot, Freight Nation. We’ll catch you the next time. On behalf of the Truck Stop team, thanks for listening to this episode of Freight Nation. To find out more about the show, head to truckstop.com/podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, make sure you hit subscribe so you don’t miss any future episodes. Until then, keep on trucking and exploring the open roads with Freight Nation, a trucking podcast.

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