Company driver for KLLM
Trucker for: 40 years
Truck: 2010 Freightliner Cascadia
Route: All 48 states
NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — People who have been around trucking a long time know what causes them problems on trucks and trailers and sometimes they come up with brilliant ideas that can make their job easier.
The Trucker met Roger Niemela, of Ft. Worth, Texas, May 25 when he asked if this reporter was a truck driver.
You see, Niemela had just sold his invention to a woman at the fuel pumps at the Petro in North Little Rock, Ark., and he thought perhaps we’d want one as well.
As a non trucker we didn’t know why someone would need something called a Pigtail Popper because we didn’t know there was a pigtail plug [light cord plug-in] that was difficult to pull from the trailer. On the other end of his Pigtail Popper is a hook that pulls the lever for the kingpin release.
The problem of pulling the plug wasn’t something he gave a lot of thought to until his grandson was riding with him.
“He saw me unhooking and we really had to wrestle to get them out — when they’re new or frozen they are hard to pull out,” Niemela said. “The year before last I had a hip injury and was off work for a long time. One night I got to thinking about it and went down to Saginaw, Texas, where an old boy had some old trailers. He gave me a light box and then I went to a parts house and bought a pigtail plug-in. I mounted that on a board and took a box cutter and cardboard and cut some one inch strips. That’s what I made the first one with; cardboard to get the angles and stuff.”
After that, Niemela went to a welding shop and asked to use the welder’s equipment to put one together.
“I gave him $50 to use his stuff. I built it in four days and it was really crude,” Niemela said. “Then I showed it to a driver for Prime who said, ‘you need to get it mass produced and he gave me the name of a man in Newton, N.C., Dennis Hefner, Specialty Welding.”
Niemela talked to Hefner and then worked with his dispatcher to get through Newton the next week. Hefner saw the potential that Niemela saw and agreed to build them for him and didn’t charge him a dime for his trouble.
“I demonstrated the prototype and never got any negative response and they said ‘where can I get one?’ so I knew it was gonna sell,” Niemela said.
In the first three weeks Niemela had sold three dozen Pigtail Poppers just at truck stops when he stopped to fuel. He’s working on getting with a distributor to have them sold in truck stops. His grandson is helping him with the business particulars and putting together a presentation for a distributor.
“This is all new for me,” Niemela said. “My wife and I have been together 45 years and she’d kind of like for me to stick around [the house] more. I’m drawing Social Security. I’ll be 69 in August. I’ve got one thing a lot of people don’t and that’s my health.”
Right now he’s selling the Pigtail Poppers for $23 each and hopes to keep the price at a good level.
“I’d rather sell a boat load of them for about $25,” he said. “But jack it up much more it’s going to sit on the shelves. If I get a couple of dollars out of each one sold that would just tickle me to death. We’re going to test in a few truck stops,” Niemela said.
Hefner, the builder of the Pigtail Popper, told Niemela that he doesn’t want to go into partnership but just wants a cut of each one. He originally built 100 of the tools without charging Niemela anything up front but was paid $400 recently when Niemela took the money to him.
Some days he sells several and some days he doesn’t sell any.
“I sold seven in two hours at a Petro the other day,” Niemela said. “I hope it turns out to be the next Hula-Hoop. It’s a work in progress; I know it will take time to get it going. I want to get it into the large trucking companies. There are endless possibilities of where this could go. I’m chomping at the bit to get this thing started.”
The Trucker wanted to know what his plans were for the next six months.
“I want to get out of my truck so I can sell my Pigtail Poppers,” he said. “I need a little bit of revenue on the truck stop sales to get out of the truck to sell it.”
Barb Kampbell of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at email@example.com.
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