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Melton handily transports Huey helicopter from Bristow to Tulsa for space museum

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Melton Truck Lines transported this Huey helicopter from Bristow, Oklahoma, to Tulsa, Oklahoma, a distance of some 40 miles. (Courtesy: MELTON TRUCK LINES)

TULSA, Okla. — The phone rings at the Melton Truck Lines office in Tulsa.

“Good morning. Melton Truck Lines. You say some manufactured steel to ship? No problem.”

It rings again.

“Good morning. Melton Truck Lines. You say you have some metal building components you need to transport? No problem.”

It rings a third time.

“Good morning, Melton Truck Lines. You say you have some HVAC equipment to ship? No problem.”

It rings yet a fourth time.

“Good morning, Melton Truck Lines. You say need to transport a Huey helicopter from Bristow to Tulsa? No problem.”

“That’s not our everyday move,” Russ Elliott, Melton’s executive vice president and chief operating officer said as he talked with a reporter for The Trucker recently about a call from the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium. “We could have moved it clear across the country, but it only had to come from Bristow, which is about 40 miles southwest of Tulsa. It wasn’t a long move, but an important one.”

The chopper Melton moved to Tulsa was actually a replacement.

Elliott said several years ago the museum acquired a Huey from somewhere in Arkansas and had it restored.

But the rotor blades got stuck in a bridge while being moved to downtown Tulsa for a Veteran’s Day parade, yanking the chopper off the trailer and destroying it.

Melton had worked with the museum in the past, including transporting a disassembled DC-3 on three trailers from Michigan to Tulsa.

The DC-3 is a fixed-wing propeller-driven airliner that revolutionized air transport in the 1930s and 1940s. It has a cruise speed of 207 mph, capacity of 21 to 32 passengers and a range of 1,500 miles.

Melton Truck Lines driver Michael Maines, an Air Force veteran, poses with his driver manager Carolyn Douthat beside the trailer carrying the Huey helicopter. (Courtesy: MELTON TRUCK LINES

So when the museum called Melton, which has established a very positive relationship with Tulsa and the surrounding area, asking for assistance with the Huey, “we didn’t bat an eye. We said, ‘sure, we’ll pick it up and then bring it on in here.’ And then I went down to our safety department and said, ‘alright, go figure out how to get a helicopter on one of our step-deck trailers and get us safely here.’”

Fortunately, the helicopter was not heavy.

“It didn’t weigh a lot, but it is as wide and maybe even just an inch or two wider than our trailer width,” Elliott said. “We used a 53-foot, step-deck trailer, which some people would refer to as a single drop. And even at that it was a little over 12 feet tall.”

To make sure there would be no problems along the route from Bristow to Tulsa, Melton hired a pole car to run the route several weeks before the actual move just to make sure the truck and trailer wouldn’t have any trouble on bridges or with low-hanging wires.

Then, the carrier repeated the exercise on December 5, the day of the move.

Melton’s safety department actually went to Bristow on the day of the move, supervised the loading of the chopper and assisted the driver.

“First, they removed the rotor blades because the rotor blades on a helicopter are very flexible,” Elliott said. “They left the mast and just strapped it down by the landing gear.”

The Melton safety group then strapped down the chopper by securing the landing gear to the trailer.

“It certainly wasn’t one of those deals where we just turned a driver loose and said, ‘hey, go pick this helicopter up, bring it all up here,’” Elliott said. “We have several folks in our safety department that I consider to be genius experts when it comes to figuring out how to strap things down.”

The driver in this case was Michael Maines, an eight-year Air Force veteran who’s been with Melton four years.

The significance of transporting a Huey was not lost on Melton’s leadership, which chose the carrier’s Military Pride tractor to pull the trailer.

Huey is the nickname for the Bell UH-1 Iroquois, a utility military helicopter developed by Bell Helicopter to meet the United States Army’s 1952 requirement for a medical evacuation and utility helicopter, that first flew in 1956.

The Huey first saw service in combat operations during the Vietnam War with around 7,000 helicopters deployed.

“We have five trucks that we call our military trucks,” Elliott said. “They’re wrapped with an eagle and veterans drive those trucks. It meant a lot to Michael to be driving that day.”

Just as it meant a lot to the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium to have another Huey to display.

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The Nation

OOIDA Foundation issues information it says debunks driver shortage ‘myth’

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Most carriers with high turnover do so by design, says OOIDA President Todd Spencer. “They could deal with driver turnover by offering better wages and benefits and improved working conditions,” he said.

GRAIN VALLEY, Mo. — The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association’s research foundation published two new documents it says debunks the driver shortage “myth.”

A fact sheet explains how the industry isn’t afflicted with a shortage of drivers, but is actually plagued with overcapacity and driver retention, the foundation reported.

A second, accompanying document talks about how wages have decreased for truck drivers at large carriers and many have moved toward smaller fleets.

Last year, the association also created a short video that explains why there is high turnover as opposed to a shortage.

“We are concerned about the perpetuation of a myth of driver shortage,” said Todd Spencer, OOIDA President. “This misinformation is used to push agendas that are harmful to the industry and highway safety.”

To address the supposed driver “shortage,” some organizations have suggested that the age requirement to obtain a commercial driver’s license should be lowered from 21 to 18.

“If safety is the top priority when considering a change to a regulation, when it comes to age, the number should be raised, not lowered.” Spencer said.

OOIDA also contends that any issue with retention could be mitigated with other solutions that would be safer for all highway users.

For example, compensation has been shown to be tied directly to highway safety, as revealed in studies that suggest there is a strong correlation between driver pay and highway safety, Spencer said.

“Most carriers with high turnover do so by design,” he said. “They could deal with driver turnover by offering better wages and benefits and improved working conditions. But putting younger drivers behind the wheel of a truck isn’t the solution because it does nothing to address the underlying issues that push drivers out of the industry. It merely exacerbates the churn.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is the largest national trade association representing the interests of small-business trucking professionals and professional truck drivers. The association currently has more than 160,000 members nationwide. OOIDA was established in 1973 and is headquartered in the greater Kansas City, Missouri, area.

 

 

 

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The Nation

Bill to prevent shutdown has benefits for USDOT

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The legislative deal passed to prevent a government shutdown contains $45.3 billion for highways honoring FAST Act funding levels for 2019, plus $3.25 billion in supplemental funding out of the general fund. (AASHTO Journal)

WASHINGTON — As part of bicameral legislative deal to prevent a second partial federal government shutdown while providing monies to build a wall along parts of the southern U.S. border, a total of $26.5 billion in discretionary funds and $60 billion from Highway and Airport and Airway Trust Funds will be provided to the U.S. Department of Transportation, according to an article in the Journal, a publication of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

The legislative deal passed both the Senate and the House by wide margins.

This legislation also contains final funding for a series of fiscal year 2019 appropriations bills for nine federal departments and related agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Commerce, Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Some of the USDOT appropriations measure include:

  • $45.3 billion for highways honoring FAST Act funding levels for 2019, plus $3.25 billion in supplemental funding out of the general fund.
  • Of that $3.25 billion in supplemental highway funding from the general fund, roughly $2.7 billion will be apportioned to the states as if it were Surface Transportation Block Grant Program funding, while $475 million will be for a Bridge Rehabilitation and Replacement program.
  • $900 million for Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development or BUILD discretionary grant program grants, divided evenly between rural and urban projects.
  • $2.55 billion for the Capital Investment Grant program, including $1.27 billion for “new starts,” $635 million for “core capacity” and $527 million for “small starts.”

“This legislation makes a significant down payment on the border wall and provides a bipartisan path forward to complete the remaining FY19 spending bills,” Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a statement.

“Our bipartisan efforts have been essential in securing the passage of this bill and completing the FY19 appropriations process,” he said. “It is my hope that we will all continue to work together as we turn to the FY20 appropriations bills.”

“This is not the agreement I would have reached on my own [as] there are things in this bill that I support, and things that I disagree with – but that is the nature of a negotiation,” said Ranking Member Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. “This agreement funds nine federal departments and their related agencies. Everyone had to give something to reach a bipartisan compromise.”

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Driver Ronald Feimster hopes to take the freedom of the road to the next level in 2019  

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Ronald Feimster tried working in other kinds of jobs, but he found he likes the freedom and independence truck driving offers. His goal for 2019 is to get his own truck and become an owner-operator. (The Trucker: KLINT LOWRY)

You don’t head out on the road without an intended destination, and the vast majority of the time you have a route planned out. And it’s not a bad idea to approach life goals the same way.

Ronald Feimster has begun 2019 with a clear idea of where he wants to get to within the next year.

“My goal is to be an owner-operator and to drive for Oakley Trucking,” he said.

Feimster was finishing breakfast at the Iron Skillet at the TravelCenters of America/Petro truck stop at I-40, exit 161, just outside Little Rock, Arkansas. He’d struck up a conversation with a fellow driver, Tim Plubell, who’s been an owner-operator for nearly 20 years (A story about Plubell can be found in the XXX edition of The Trucker), so Feimster’s career goals were at the front of his mind when The Trucker caught up with him.

He’s done his homework, he said. He knows a lot goes into being an owner-operator.

“I drove for a lease operator before,” Feimster said. “He was the owner-operator. And I loved it. I loved the freedom of it. I know you have to pay for your own maintenance, but a lot of these companies nowadays, they help you with the maintenance, so that cuts that in half. Then you have that fuel surcharge, so that cuts that in half.”

Feimster, who hails from Rogers, Arkansas, has also done his homework on Oakley Trucking, a subsidiary of Bruce Oakley Inc., a commodity trading, distribution and transportation company based in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Oakley Trucking specializes dry bulk transportation throughout the Lower 48 and Canada.

“And Oakley, they pay excellent, but the catch is you have to own your own truck,” Feimster said. “Pull their trailers, but you own your own truck. That’s my goal.”

Long-term, he said, at 47, if all goes as he’s envisioning it, if he gets in at Oakley, it could be the kind of situation where he could spend the rest of his career there.

Not that he’s unhappy where he’s at. Feimster drives for Southern Refrigerated Transport, popularly known as SRT.

“They’re a good company,” Feimster said. “I’d recommend them to anybody.”

He runs a dedicated route pulling reefer for Tyson Foods. His route keeps him within the neighboring states of Arkansas. But, as he explained, he generally gets home about every three weeks.

“I could get home every weekend, but you don’t make any money like that,” he said. “You have to stay out here for a little while. Unless I were an owner-operator. Then I would do it differently.”

Feimster first got into trucking in 1998. Before that, he said, “I wasn’t really doing nothing.” In other words, he had jobs, but he didn’t have a career. “I was doing factory work. It wasn’t that good. So, I got into trucking, basically, to start making more money. I went ahead and got my CDL.”

He started out hauling logs. Since then he’s “been around,” he said, gaining experience working for Panther 2, Swift Transportation and Covenant Transport, which owns SRT.

At one point, he tried to get out of trucking. “I was over-the-road, and I was tired of going through those snowy mountains” in Colorado, he said. The job wasn’t worth risking his life.

“I said, ‘I have got to get out of this,’ because I had just gotten married, and then we had our first child. I’ve got to go home and be a dad,” Feimster said.

He went back to warehouse work and even became a supervisor. But he came to realize that he just wasn’t a company-culture kind of guy. One of the best things about truck driving, Feimster said, is there’s “no one breathing over your back.” Even after having been the one doing the breathing, he hates that kind of work environment.

He said he didn’t want to publicly describe the straw that broke the camel’s back and sent him to trucking. The short version of the story is he was told to fire an employee that he firmly believed didn’t deserve it.

“I said, ‘you know what? This is not a good way to treat people,’” he said. “That was enough for me. I talked to my old lady. I said, ‘I’m going to go back to truck driving.’ She said ‘OK, that’s what you want to do?’ I said I was going to be away from home, but our kids are grown. Everything’s fine. She said go for it. Here I am.”

Trucking may not be perfect, but he needs to feel that independence.

Sure, there are a few ways the job could be better. “We would like more pay,” he said, then quickly added, “who wouldn’t?”

It also bothers him that society in general doesn’t value what truckers do.

“If trucks stopped delivering for just a couple days, the country would come to a standstill,” he said. “Why isn’t the profession held in higher regard?”

Well, there isn’t a whole lot he can do about that. He appreciates what the profession means to him, and he intends to make the most of it.

 

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