Owner-Operators: Empty Nesters

April 2012, - Feature

by Jim Park, Equipment Editor, Equipment Editor - Also by this author

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Bob and Linda Caffee were living a comfortable life in southwest Kansas. They had a nice house on a 7-acre spread. He was a diesel mechanic, and she worked in administration at the local courthouse.
Linda Caffee (right) and her husband Bob sold their home to try expedited trucking. To stay up-to-date with the industry, Linda relies on blogs, social media and networking.
Linda Caffee (right) and her husband Bob sold their home to try expedited trucking. To stay up-to-date with the industry, Linda relies on blogs, social media and networking.
During the winter months when his farm-based business slowed, Bob drove part-time for an over-the-road carrier. When the couple's daughters left for college in 2000, Linda began riding along.

Bitten by the driving bug but not keen on dragging 53-foot trailers around big cities, Linda suggested they look at expediting. The couple attended Expedite Expo in 2004, and before long, they had sold the house in Kansas, moved in with one of their daughters in St. Louis and bought their first truck. Bob and Linda are now on their second truck and are successfully partnered with FedEx Custom Critical.

"Expediting clicked for us," Linda says. "It gave us the opportunity to travel and, with a bit of time between runs, to see a little of the country. But it can be a tricky business. You have to be exceptionally good at managing money and saving through the busy weeks to get through the slower weeks."

They have seen weeks of 7,000 miles and weeks of 200. They had to learn to manage the business month by month, rather than worry about the trip-by-trip swings.

"We are really budget-focused and make sure all the expenses are covered every month," she says. "When we come in over budget, we make extra payments and put something away for the slower months."

When they were new at the business, Linda networked her way through many of trucking's traditional minefields. She relied on blogs and social media to expand her group of mentors, advisors and experts.

Today she maintains a few blogs of her own. She sits on the board of Women in Trucking, and she is a core member of the Trucking Solutions Group, an owner-operator networking organization that convenes conference calls to discuss issues related to the business.

"There has got to be constant improvement if you're going to stay ahead of the curve in this business," Linda says. "Through TSG, we learn about new products and techniques from other owner-operators, and that keeps us on top of the game."

These days, the big issue is fuel economy. Their Cascadia expeditor makes better than 12 mpg at 58 mph, but they have been experimenting with different road speeds. Running at 65 mpg lowered fuel economy to 10.5 mpg.

Linda will tell you that expediting is a very different business model from a typical over-the-road operation, but the fundamentals are the same: "It's a truck, and it's a business. That's means you have to manage the money.

"Because Bob and I are a team - in more ways than one - we've got a pair of skill sets that lend themselves well to what we do," she says. "And we've certainly made the best of our networking connections over the years. You have to stay involved and stay engaged, because things happen so fast today, if you're out of the loop, you'll be lost in no time."

To read more about the new breed of owner-operator, click here.

From the April 2012 issue of HDT.

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