Epidemic Essentials: Trucking


 

by Kerry Hoffschneider

As the nation closes businesses, citizens still need provisions they have come to rely upon and some that are necessary for survival.  So far, the wheels on the trucking industry have not slowed since the eruption of COVID-19 worldwide.  However, everyday truckers are already on alert for bigger changes.  We will continue to reach out to those in this industry across the country to find out what issues they are navigating as we all face these unprecedented events impacting nearly all facets of life.

Jordan Mohr, Mohr Trucking & Son, Arlington, Nebraska

Jordan Mohr, a.k.a.  the self-proclaimed, “Asian Cowboy,” went through Minneapolis, Minnesota at the end of last week.  It was 5 p.m., “But it didn’t feel like rush hour.  It felt like 10 a.m.  in the morning.  A buddy of mine in Las Vegas said the strip is closed down and they haven’t done that since JFK died.”

Mohr operates Mohr Trucking & Son based out of Arlington, Nebraska with his father, Danny.  Now, when he returns from over-the-road trips, he doesn’t get to physically check-in with the office staff at the company their trucks are leased onto.

“They emailed me last week and they want us to start putting our sheets in the mailboxes outside,” Mohr said.  “The guy who runs the company has 16 drivers going through all the major cities that have been hit by the coronavirus the worst. He only has a couple office girls and he doesn’t want anyone coming in and spreading germs.”

Driving a truck since he was 19, Mohr said he has over-the-road trucked since he was 22.

“I started by working with Bar K Cattle out of Sioux Center, Iowa.  Then I saved money and got a little help from the people dad leased onto and bought my first truck two years ago,” Mohr said.

Mohr said Mohr Trucking & Son hauls farm machinery, everything from combines to sprayers and everything in-between including some construction equipment here and there.  They haul everywhere in the U.S.  and touch all lower 48 states.  He said his dad has been driving 46 years and has been in 49 states – all of them except Hawaii.

Mohr said the biggest short-term difference are the restaurant closures, “I haven’t packed a lot of food yet.  I have a fridge in my truck and so does dad so we can make sandwiches.  I have started to notice more scarcity of bread.  At most truck stops, bread already costs 40 percent higher than say Hy-Vee or Wal-Mart.  I carry a pack of water – for me and my dog.”

Gradually, businesses he hauls to and from are starting to take precautions.  Mohr said he loaded up in Fremont at John Deere where the shop doors closed so he could not walk into the shop — a social distancing practice.

“The biggest thing I am worried about is there is not a vaccination or ‘cure’ for this virus yet.  But there are more recoveries than deaths,” Mohr pointed out.  “But I still think it something we need to be concerned about.  But, we don’t need to be stockpiling so much and taking away supplies from the elderly.  I pay attention and read about it and try and fact check too when I read something.  A lot of the stuff I have read is true, but blown way out of proportion.

“I was talking to a couple buddies of mine that are from the city and a little ‘trendier’ I guess than I am.  I guess part of this toilet paper thing started as a challenge on Facebook,” he added.  “Let’s just say, I do not think the world is ending tomorrow by the coronavirus.  We need to not panic.”

While he doesn’t think the world is ending tomorrow, Mohr admitted there is a higher level of stress among those in the trucking industry.

“We are one announcement away from apocalyptic mode.  There’s a lot of talk about closing the state lines.  I have been told the truckers will not be affected,” Mohr added.  “If that does happen, there could be problems, like people trying to hop rides on the trailer or truck to get across the country.  I could foresee the National Guard at each state border and that would add to what we already deal with.”

In the background, Mohr’s friend Sam Swanson from Fremont, Nebraska chimed into the discussion.  Mohr took Swanson and her three-year-old daughter to Arkansas to her mom and dad’s home on an acreage there, away from highly populated areas.  What Swanson is most afraid of are stupid decisions by, “stupid people.”

Mohr’s friends in the trucking industry have fears heightening too.

“I have a lot of friends in the industry who are saying they just want to get out of trucking.  If the government says they are going to shut the trucks down, I guess that is the day I become an outlaw.  I will never quit trucking,” Mohr stated.

 

Sam Foster, Sam Foster Trucking, Kersey, Colorado

 

Sam Foster just had a granddaughter and he can’t go and see her, not because of COVID-19, but because he caught a cold.

Before now, the common cold didn’t give people ideations of COVID-19, but that has all changed since the outbreak began spreading across the globe.  Foster, who is originally from Ulysses, Nebraska, now lives on an acreage outside Kersey – located on the front range of Colorado, East of Greeley.

Foster started Sam Foster Trucking in the late 1990s and has done everything from hauling cattle, to working with the oil fields.

“That’s trucking, you just adjust to what your market is all of the time,” Foster said.

Right now, Foster deals with one customer, hauling and retaining wall blocks, with most of his cargo heading to Denver, Aurora, Castle Rock, and Fort Collins.

“The one thing that really stands out the most to me are the restaurants closing down.  A lot of guys live out of their trucks and restaurants,” Foster said.  “There are drive-thrus, but you cannot drive a semi-truck up to a drive-thru window and if you are on foot, they will not serve you.  It’s just a time when you have to do some good prep work before you head out.”

Foster said it’s a lot like farming, you just have to adjust, adapt and conquer.  The fuel prices are going down and helping guys to a certain degree.

“As long as the fuel doesn’t stop, we will be able to keep going,” Foster stated.

But the businesses keeping these trucks stocked are already noticing an impact and he hears about others who are looking down the road.

“The one plant I load with, have cut their crews back to 10 people crews.  I have friends back in Nebraska that haul for Valley pivots and entities like that,” Foster said.  “At Valley my friends say they are staying pretty busy hauling steel from Chicago and hauling pivots, but if they limit them to 10 person crews, it could really put a kibosh on things.

“We’re all making jokes about everything, but there is a seriousness behind all of this,” Foster said.  “You adapt.  You conquer.  Small businesses like mine just have to keep going.  The strong survive, I guess.  If you want an excuse to quit, this is your time.  But if you want to survive, you have to keep going.”

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