Oct 16

Nicky Hammerlane here. Seems like the trucking life is a bunch of circles. Going from NYC to Atlanta to New Orleans out to Phoenix; LA, Las Vegas, Denver, Omaha, Chicago and soon Boston. Headed to Long Island after that, then back towards the west. Looks like the boys (my son and grandson) landed this contract to replace the display fixtures nationwide for a chain of stores. Anyway, I’m sitting at Flynn’s Truckstop on US 20 in Shrewsbury, MA, catching up on paperwork while doing some laundry downstairs and eating my fix of donuts and coffee from the Dunkin’ Donut shop.

I’d just taken the first washer load out and put it in the dryer when I heard a very New England accent say, “You Nicky Hammerlane?”

“That ‘s me,” I said, as I shoved the last pant leg into the dryer and started putting quarters in the slots.

“Ichabod Spencer here,” he responded, offering a handshake. “Own a company that’s been around since we colonists were throwing tea parties at Boston harbor. Name is Sleepy Hollow Livery and Transport.”

I thought, “A guy named Ichabod in Massachusetts. What else would he own, other than a company named Sleepy Hollow? A bit spooky, but appropriate.

“Glad to meet you, Mr. Spencer. What can I do for you?” I asked.

“Call me Ichabod, please, Mr. Hammerlane,” he began. “I’ve got a problem; a trucking business problem. Not sure what to do about it or if it’s really a problem at all. But it has me perplexed and I want to do the right thing for those involved.”

“Fair enough as long as you call me Nicky,” I said. “Ichabod it’ll be. Let me get this second load into a dryer and I’m all ears.” As I proceeded to start the second load drying, Ichabod sat in a chair, patiently waiting for me to complete the task at hand. I then sat down, absentmindedly picked up my cup of coffee, and then said, “Oh, excuse my manners. Can I get you a cup of coffee or something?”

“No, Nicky, I’m good. Had my limit earlier today.”

“Well, let’s hear the details of your problem that might not be a problem but then again might be,” I said.

Ichabod began. “I must admit Sleepy Hollow Livery and Transport is really just 12 years old. The name ‘Sleepy Hollow’ came in because I’ve always been tall and skinny, and given my name, every Halloween I had to be ‘Ichabod Crane’ for the Sleepy Hollow play. So when I named the company, Sleepy Hollow was a natural pick. The ‘Livery’ part of the name is actually something my family has been in since the early 1700’s. Legend has it that Paul Revere rode one of our horses that famous night. Legends aside, the livery side is 300 or so years old, but the trucking side is only 12.”

“Well, at least you’re not 300 years old,” I quipped. “How many drivers and trucks do you have?”

“It seems to vacillate between 17 and 20; can’t seem to maintain and retain those last three truck drivers. It’s a bit strange. I have nine drivers who’ve been with me anywhere from opening day to six years. The other eight seem to stick around for two or three years, then they move to another carrier. Occasionally one or two of them return, and if they left on good terms, I rehire them if they’ve maintained their good driving records,” he explained.

“So where’s the problem?” I asked. “Seems you have a pretty low turnover rate of ….let’s see, about 15% per year over all; not bad in an industry that’s usually pushing 100% turnover per year.

“I agree,” Ichabod responded. “But here’s the problem: I have one nearly-perfect driver; excellent record, never a problem with customer service, delivery, takes care of the truck and trailer. Works well with dispatch. A dream driver.”

“And this is a problem how?” I asked.

“In two ways. One, he’s my wife’s sister’s oldest son, so he’s family. Two, I call him my real Sleepy Hollow trucker, as he has a habit of suddenly disappearing and then reappearing a few months later.”

“What do you mean, ‘disappearing and then reappearing'?” I started putting my shirts on hangers.

“Seems the boy; man, I mean – he’s 25 - has a passion for adventure; plays as hard as he works. But he’s not one of those people who can take a two-week vacation and be satisfied. Can’t call him lazy, can’t even call him irresponsible, as he usually gives me a one or two month warning that he’s taking off. Last time it was to hike all 2000 miles of the Appalachian Trail; the time before to spend four months in the Amazon rain forest, time before that was a trip to Palmerland for  three months in Antarctica,” Ichabod explained.

“Kinda have to respect the guy. He’s living a life many dream of. And actually I can see why he’d enjoy driving a truck while he plans his next adventure,” I said.

Ichabod gave me a ghost of a smile. “That’s why I’m not sure it’s a problem. Maybe a bit of envy on my part. And because I seem to have one to three trucks in need of a driver most of the time, it seems to work. But the business part of me questions why he should get this privilege, while the rest of us are lucky to get two weeks a year to have our ‘Adventures’.”

“That’s a good question, Ichabod,” I answered. “But I also work a similar schedule in my trucking ‘retirement.’ So what’s the question you’d like me to answer?”

“I haven’t heard any complaints from my other drivers, but I think it’s just a matter of time before I’m accused of nepotism and favoritism towards this one vagabond trucker. I’d rather have a proactive solution, than have to react when another driver becomes angry over it,” he replied. 

“So what you need is a solution to this before it becomes a problem. That makes sense,” I nodded thoughtfully. “A policy that’s fair and equitable to each of your drivers, while being able to address their different wants and needs.” I fed more quarters to the other dryer.

“Exactly,” Ichabod replied.

“A tall order, if I might say. But a noble one, that would set you apart from other carriers. It might even help you keep those other three trucks’ left seats filled by drivers who want to stick around.”

“That’s where I’m hoping you can help me, Nicky,” he said. “You game?” 

Join Nicky for the next installment of The Case of the Disappearing Driver in our next blog. How will he help Ichabod Spencercreate a fair and equitable plan that provides all his truckers time off to enjoy life and keeps Ichabod’s wife and her sister happy by employing his nephew? Sounds like a tale for Washington Irving.

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