Nicky Hammerlane here, finally taking a pie break. Whew, has it been a whirlwind last few weeks. And to think I’m supposed to be retired. Well, “semi” retired anyway. You’d think when the old guy sells the company to the younger generations in the family, the old guy would get to take a break every once in a while. Well, let this be a lesson to all you older truckers out there - don’t let your grandson dispatch you. Why, you ask? Because grandpa can’t say ‘no’ to a grandchild.
Enough about my woes. So I’m sitting at the counter in one of the few truckstops in America that still has a sit-down restaurant, savoring one of my favorite pastimes - a big cup of joe and hot apple pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
It was about then I heard what sounded like a wild bull coming through the front door. Well, it wasn’t any bull, but let’s say if I was a bull, and this guy came through the door, I’d be looking for the nearest exit. To put it mildly, the bellowing trucker wasn’t happy and he was letting everyone know it.
“@#$% son of a !#%&, that $@& did it to me again. Second @%&* load he’s stolen from me in a week. And now that son of a @$#& thinks he’s going to get my shipper. There’s no @%$& way he can haul a load for that cheap!” He cussed, while making a beeline to the counter - and dang if he doesn’t sit down just two stools to my left. Then he banged his fist on the counter so hard that both my pie and coffee jump three inches into the air, with the coffee spilling over onto the pie and ice cream. Totaled. What a waste.
He looked me square in the eye and said, “Bet you’re one of those damn cheap freight haulers too,” then yelled, “Marge, get me a cup of thick black coffee. I’m going to need it ‘cause I’m fixin’ to kick some cheap freight hauler’s butt!”
I thought, “I’m too dang old for this. No pie is worth getting into a fight over.” So I grabbed my black Stetson, set it on my head and got up, looked for the door.
About then this bruiser of a trucker stood up, square in front of me. “Wait a minute. Are you who I think you are?”
“Depends,” I answered. “Who do you want me to be?”
“Black Stetson; white 9900IX with the big sleeper in the parking lot. You Nicky Hammerlane?”
“I cannot lie,” I said. “Nor can I hide. That be me.”
“B.A. Rhoades of Rhoades Trucking, that’s who I am,” the big trucker announced.
I thought, B.A., huh? The way you came in here, I can‘t imagine what it stands for.” I responded, “Nicky Hammerlane, N. Hammerlane & Son. Glad to meet you, B.A.. What can I do for you?”
B.A. began, “I’ve been looking for you for over a month now. I apologize for my entry – you know you’re like trying to find a needle in a haystack?” He continued without drawing a breath. “But I have this one competitor; actually he’s a lot bigger than I am, he’s got about 20 trucks, I’ve got 12. Anyway, tried to buy me out about six months ago. Would’ve sold if the offer’d been reasonable, but it wasn’t.”
Then B.A. kind of leaned down to look me full in the face. “So he said, “O.K., then I’ll just steal all your customers. At the time I thought he’d never do it. Why? Because his CSA score’s out the window, his drivers look like they’re shopping a big box store - flip-flops, sweat pants and dirty, torn T-shirts. Trucks and trailers are dirty too. Figured I had nothing to worry about.” B.A. finally had to breathe, and dadgum, he was still blowing fumes and flames.
“Well, last month he got my second-biggest customer to drop me. Underbid the loads by 70 cents per mile! I know my numbers. I know what it takes to run a truck and that lane and even with his rattletraps, he can’t do it for long. But the customer doesn’t know this. Then just twenty minutes ago, my other big customer calls and tells me the same story: 70 cents per mile less. I’m not normally a violent person, but the temptation is great, know what I mean?”
“No apology needed, B.A., your reaction is totally understandable,” I said. “Now, how do I figure into this?”
“Well, when he stole my first customer, I reacted about the same. Came stompin’ in here an’ a trucker by the name of …let me think… Duggon, yeah, Duke Duggon, said you turned his trucking business around. Something about teaching him how to set hauling rates for LTL. I asked him how to contact you. But he’d gotten a new phone and after looking for your number for 10 minutes, he didn’t have it. So he told me to watch for the white International with N. Hammerlane and Son on the door - and described you right down to the black Stetson. Frankly, I‘d given up on finding you, until you put on the hat and everything clicked. I need you to help me get my customers back or find decent-paying replacements. From everything I’ve heard, you’re the man.”
I stood there for a minute, then looked at the spilled coffee, pie and melted ice cream still on the counter. “Tell you what - if you can afford my fee, you’ve got a deal.”
B.A. sat back down. “A fee? Not sure I can afford what this is worth if it works,” he sighed. “But hit me with the fee.”
“First, let’s get a table, as I’ll need more details,“ I began. “Second, the first payment needs to be made today - one slice of hot apple pie with vanilla ice cream and a big cup of coffee. Then if we’re successful, you agree to make a donation in the amount you think it’s worth to the St. Christopher Fund: A Truck Driver Charity.”
“What about some money for you?” he asked.
“B.A.,” I said. “I’ve had my success, so now it’s time to pass the sword to another Knight of the Road. By having you make a donation to the Truck Driver Charity, I’ve successfully helped two people, and passed the sword at the same time.”
I signaled Marge that we were moving to a table towards the back for privacy, and to deliver two apple pies with ice cream and two cups of coffee. This was going to take a bit of ingenuity, which meant time to chew over the details as well as the pie.
Join Nicky for the next installment of The Case of the Rate War in our blog. How will he help B.A. Rhoades get his customers back from the bottom-feeding trucking company – or will it even be possible?