Saturday, April 21, 2018

Former chemical researcher now hauls new trucks from Mexico border all over U.S., Canada


Friday, November 5, 2010
by BARB KAMPBELL

Dennis Lee stays busy despite a drop in new truck sales. (The Trucker: BARB KAMPBELL)
Dennis Lee stays busy despite a drop in new truck sales. (The Trucker: BARB KAMPBELL)

Dennis Lee hauls trucks for a living. On the day The Trucker met him he was driving a brand new white Freightliner and pulling one that was maroon in color. Sometimes he pulls as many as four trucks behind the new one he drives for delivery all over the United States and into Canada.

Lee, who lives in Houston, is a company driver for Auto Truck Transport, where he’s worked since 2005. He’s been in trucking for 14 years and has pulled flatbed, tanker, and van loads over the span of his career which also included time as an owner-operator.

Before he got into trucking he did chemical research at Exxon and other companies, but that came to an end.

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 “Research is one of the first things to go in [a bad] economy,” Lee said. “I got into trucking when there were fewer layoffs. Even now there are a lot of jobs in this business, but it’s also cutthroat with some of the brokers.”

Lee is paid by the mile and is a union employee so he stays pretty busy, but hauling new trucks when the economy is down can be tricky since new truck sales have been substantially down lately.

“I’ve been laid off a couple of times,” he said. “These trucks are all made in Mexico. When the storm hit recently I was laid off for one day. It depends on the manufacturers. Mexican holidays can shut us down. I plan to stay with this company as long as I can. I’m vested and working on my pension. If I can’t retire here I’ll become an owner-operator again.”

Unlike many truckers, and even some who haul new trucks, Lee is flown home from deliveries. Auto Truck Transport pays for all his transportation expenses home and puts him in a motel if he can’t get a flight out after he delivers the last truck of the run.

Lee usually gets home a couple of times a week, but it varies, he said.

“Sometimes I’m out as long as two weeks,” Lee added. “I’m usually home one day, sometimes two. I don’t have to worry about missing my family much.”

His family is a big one with a wife and nine children between them. Only one child is still at home. They also have 13 grandchildren and one of them, a 3-year-old boy, lives with them as well.

Lee’s wife is an LPN who does in-home care both in their home and in patients’ homes. She’s been doing LPN work for more than 25 years.

Lee likes working for Auto Truck Transport and is covered with full medical benefits both for he and his family.

“It’s one of the top two companies in this particular industry,” Lee said. “One other is unionized, active, which is Teamsters. We’re machinists. The rest are non union and have to provide their own transportation home after delivery or they’ll haul a car and drive back in that.”

Lee said he and fellow truck haulers mostly drive during the day because the loads they pull are dangerous if they hit bad roads. It’s easier to see what lies ahead during the daylight hours. Whenever he encounters icy roads it’s time to stop because even though he carries chains on his truck they aren’t allowed to chain the new truck tires because they might get “messed up.”

Lee said he gets a penny-per-mile more on a load for every truck he adds, up to four. And loads are posted on a board so he picks which one he thinks is best. The day The Trucker met him he was pulling one truck because “it’s easier. Four-way is harder to do and [you have] extra stops. You pick the best load available at the time.”

Lee had driven from Laredo, Texas, where new trucks are brought across the border from Mexico, and was headed to Indianapolis and Gary, Ind.         

Barb Kampbell of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at barbkampbell@thetrucker.com.

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