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Who's Driving Tank?

by Jim Park

The face you're likely to see behind the wheel of a tank truck is not the face of the average driver. Typically, he's a mature driver with a few years under his belt, a guy who's had his share of over-the-road stuff and is now looking for a more stable existence. Kim Miller, vice president of human resources at Trimac Transportation Services in Calgary, says the average age of a Trimac driver is now 46. He attributes this to the quest for steady income, predictable schedules, and a demand for slightly higher earnings that occurs around middle age.

"Tank work tends to be more regionally and locally oriented," Miller says. "We've still got plenty of long-haul work to offer in certain markets, but across the board, most of what we do is short-haul." This, of course, offers more home time and more predictable turnarounds, and more predictable pay cheques. Miller says that many of his drivers are home every two or three nights, which dovetails nicely with the wish list of the mature driver.

But as good as it may seem on paper, Miller says he still has his share of problems when it comes to putting bodies into the cab. "It's not pure trucking," he says. "Loading and unloading is part of the specialty. It's not just a matter of turning the thing on and letting it go. The driver is very much a part of the process, and we lose our share of drivers because of that."

For many drivers though, that's part of the trade-off. Switching to tanks requires learning a new set of skills and adjusting to a new way of doing things. Dennis Durand, an owner-operator with Jade Transport in Winnipeg, Mb., signed on to the tank business six years ago and doesn't see himself doing anything else.

"Hauling tanks is addictive," Durand says. "It's not like the LTL or reefer business. People don't use the truck for storage." He said that's one part of the business that wasn't hard to get used to at all.

Durand also notes that while Jade's mileage rate is about the same as anywhere else, 30% to 40% of his miles are empty miles, paid at the same rate. "That means fuel savings," he says. "Tanks are better on fuel than a van anyway (because of the lower profile), but running empty saves a ton of fuel and wear and tear on the truck." It took him a while to get the hang of driving with the slosh, but he says the advantages of pulling a tank soon became pretty obvious.

At the end of the day, the trade-offs seem to be worth the effort to many seasoned drivers. Estimates of the total number of drivers currently working in the tank sector are somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000.

Related article: Yankin' a Tanker

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