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Equipment Dealer Expands into Trucking

Harvest Haul, an Affiliate of McComb Diesel, Partners with Vulcan On-Board Scales

By Diane M. Calabrese
Date Posted: 6/1/2005

Equipment Dealer Expands into Trucking
Harvest Haul, an Affiliate of McComb Diesel, Partners with Vulcan On-Board Scales

By Diane M. Calabrese
Contributing Author

MAGNOLIA, Mississippi — Crossing state borders in a vehicle is a non-event, unless the vehicle is a truck. Then, it can become a big event very fast.

        Going the distance these days takes more than a good driver and a good tractor-trailer. It takes determination and absolute compliance with every federal and state regulation. Checkpoints — scheduled and random — seem to be multiplying and popping up in unexpected places and especially at state lines.

        As states try to make the most of every budget dollar, they look long and hard at the loads being hauled on their highways. They demand that trucks be legal weight. If trucks are not road legal, the states want the company behind the vehicle to pay a hefty fine.

        The weight checkpoints stem from the overarching purview of the U.S. Department of Transportation, which is just one of the entities interested in what is moving across the nation’s highway network. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also wants to know what is being transported on the roadways. So, too, increasingly, does the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

        Harvest Haul Inc., which is owned by Frankie Montalvo and his father, Ray, deals with the challenge of routinely crossing the border between Louisiana and Mississippi, neighboring states that have different truck weight limits for their roads. A Harvest Haul driver will often pick up in Louisiana, where the road limit is 86,000 pounds, and travel to Mississippi, where the limit is 84,000 pounds.

         “We do forestry raw material transport,” said Frankie. “We haul a variety of different species and sizes, typically Southern yellow pine.”

        A young company, Harvest Haul is affiliated with another business, McComb Diesel, an equipment dealership that sells and services machinery for the forestry, construction and oil field industries. Ray started McComb Diesel 36 years ago, and Frankie began working in that enterprise full time in 1991.

        When the owners of McComb Diesel launched Harvest Haul, they knew exactly what they wanted in terms of equipment. “The design behind all the equipment (at Harvest Haul) is based on safety, payload capacity and durability,” said Frankie. Harvest Haul relies exclusively on Western Star tractors, Pitts four-bolster log trailers, and Vulcan On-Board Scales.

        “I’ve had the opportunity over the years to talk to our contractors about equipment preferences, scales they used in the woods,” said Frankie. Many of them recommended Vulcan, he indicated.

        Harvest Haul adopted the Vulcan T-403 truck and trailer logging scale system for each vehicle in its fleet. In April, when Frankie talked with TimberLine, 31 Vulcan T-403 systems were in place and 21 more were on order for implementation by the end of summer.

        “In terms of safety, we want to make sure we don’t overload,” said Frankie. “We want to make sure we haul within the legal limits of the law.”

        When it came to logging trailers, the company already had a business relationship with Pitts Trailers because McComb Diesel has represented the trailer manufacturer since the early 1990s. “We’ve had a good working relationship with them,” said Frankie.

        Nevertheless, Harvest Haul considered Pitts and several other trailer manufacturers before narrowing it down to Pitts. Pitts representatives met with Harvest Haul staff to review issues related to the application and gather information prior to making a recommendation — hauling conditions, terrain, and so on. “They encouraged us to go in a different direction, and it worked out pretty good,” said Frankie. Payload capacity was the biggest factor in the decision for Pitts to supply the trailers, he said. Harvest Haul is now equipped with 45 Pitts logging trailers.

         As important as being legal is, making a profit for the business is also a must. Anyone could skip scales, load visibly light, and lose money. Moreover, with fuel costs increasing recently, a transporter could even manage to run light and use more fuel per unit load without much effort. That’s most definitely not the objective of running a business, however. That’s where reliable scales can make a difference to the bottom line.

        “We haul a commodity,” explained Frankie. “We want a fair weight and a fair price. The Vulcan system gives us the opportunity to make sure we’re able to maximize the amount of logs we’re able to carry.”

        The Vulcan T-403 systems have proven to be everything Frankie expected. “They hold their calibration well,” he said, “and work in a severe environment.”

        In the region where Harvest Haul operates, the average summer daytime temperature is 90 degrees. Add to hot temperatures the torrential downpours associated with afternoon thunderstorms. The sensor components of the Vulcan On-Board Scales are put to the test every day.

        To ensure that scales and other equipment are properly maintained, Harvest Haul sets high expectations for its employees. “We tell our drivers that we hold them responsible for weight and fines,” said Frankie. That gives the drivers the incentive to adhere precisely to regularly scheduled maintenance protocols on tractors and trailers and to scale calibration schedules.

        Harvest Haul works for mills, picking up and delivering logs the mills have contracted to buy. The mills have stringent requirements, too. For one thing, mills do not want to overburden their equipment. For example, Weyerhaeuser strictly disapproves of overweight loads and will penalize them, according to Frankie.

        “The mills use their own scales,” said Frankie, and it is important that the truck scales be as accurate as those at the mills. The two readings must coincide or a driver could be penalized.

        The Vulcan T-403 system gives Harvest Haul the accuracy it requires to negotiate legally on roads and to satisfy the requirements of the mills it works for, said Frankie. Following the calibration schedule recommended by Vulcan is all it takes to keep the scale systems working properly, he said.

        The digital display or read-out of the Vulcan system makes it easy for the driver to know the weight of his load and keep pace with what is required of him, said Frankie. The display can be brightened or dimmed, adjusting to the level of natural light, in order to make it easy for the drivers to see.

        “The single focus of Harvest Haul is safe and efficient trucking,” said Frankie. The Vulcan On-Board Scale systems contribute to those twin goals in significant ways.

        The Vulcan T-403 system that Harvest Haul has adopted uses a meter from the Vulcan V300 electronics series. The V300 meter and electronics are designed to simplify customer use. The system has been tested and proven accurate within 1% of gross vehicle weight. In the cab, a driver can choose to view either gross vehicle weight or net payload weight.

        The V320 meter in the V300 series uses two channels while the V340 can be used for applications requiring four channels. Because the V300 series meters are easy to calibrate, operate, and troubleshoot, they allow for quick change-outs. Trailers and tractors can be mixed without any readjustment to meters, which are a plug-and-go design.

        Harvest Haul is headquartered in Magnolia, Miss., which is in the south-central part of the state. Magnolia, a town of 2,700 residents, is the capital of Pike County and is just 10 miles north of the Louisiana state line. (The Magnolia State is the nickname for Mississippi.)

        Frankie was born in New Orleans. He was a youngster when his father decided to move the family to Mississippi because of the economic opportunities. He worked at McComb Diesel part time while growing up and was eager to join his father in the business 14 years ago.

         McComb Diesel is a dealership for Caterpillar, Cummins, Detroit Diesel, Mercedes Benz Diesel, Western Star, Pitts, and ITT Chip Trailer. The dealership offers full parts and labor support. McComb Diesel has 20 employees while Harvest Haul has 36 employees.

        Talking with customers over the years, particularly those who were contractors themselves, Frankie and Ray got more and more interested in the feasibility of starting a trucking company to haul wood. As they evaluated the potential, they envisioned the opportunity to fill an open niche. They launched Harvest Haul in 2004.

        Harvest Haul allows the logger to focus on what he does best, said Frankie — to do the best timber harvesting job without concern about transporting the wood. “It offers loggers the opportunity to decouple harvesting and transport,” he explained, and that benefits everyone.

        The Vulcan T-403 systems helped Harvest Haul get off to a good start. “The few service concerns we had got immediate attention,” said Frankie. “Any equipment is no better than the people that stand behind it.”

        The people at Vulcan are an important part of the equation, said Frankie. “We have aligned ourselves with Vulcan because of the people,” he said. He cited Jerry McCurry, East Coast manager for Vulcan, and Eric Elefson and Arnie Melbuer at the Vulcan factory in Kent, Wash., as integral players in the decision by Harvest Haul to use Vulcan On-Board Scales equipment.

        “We called Jerry McCurry,” said Frankie. “We knew what we wanted. We found a fit with what we do.”

        Vulcan has since set up McComb Diesel as a dealer, said Frankie. “But Harvest Haul also uses the services of another Vulcan Dealer, Nations Welding in Brookhaven, Mississippi,” he explained. “We rely on the expertise that Nations offers.”

        There is close collaboration among all Vulcan dealers and Vulcan headquarters, a willingness to help one another out, according to Frankie. That is something else he appreciates about doing business with Vulcan.

        Vulcan also was an effective partner when it came to working with the trailer manufacturer, Frankie noted. “Vulcan worked closely with Pitts to supply the scale set-up for the trailers,” he said. All Pitts trailers at Harvest Haul are 2005 and 2006 model years.

        Vulcan On-Board Scales are manufactured by Stress-Tek Inc. Its headquarters is near Seattle, and Vulcan was responding to the needs of the Pacific Northwest logging industry when it developed the first Vulcan On-Board Scales in 1984. Stress-Tek originally was founded in 1978 as a consulting business in the fields of transducer design and experimental stress analysis.

        The Vulcan product line has been expanded to serve all parts of the trucking industry, and more than 30,000 vehicles in the industry are equipped with Vulcan On-Board Scales. Stress-Tek continues to offer products that serve a wide range of industries, from aerospace to marine and medical.

        For trucking companies, success depends equally on the equipment and drivers. Recruitment and retention of drivers is a challenge across the trucking industry today and no less so for those in the log hauling sector.

        Vulcan On-Board Scales reduce the demands placed on drivers. For instance, the scales make it easier for drivers to load and run legal weights. They make it easier for drivers to judge braking distances. They also eliminate the need for a driver to take the truck elsewhere or move it to weigh and move it again to keep loading to full weight — a real time saver.

        Anything that reduces liability exposure becomes an important tool in hiring and retaining valued drivers in a market where there is keen competition for such employees. And in the 21st century, it’s not just that state-level counterparts of the DOT are aggressive about finding and penalizing vehicles for being overweight. With concerns over homeland security, the state DOTs have been called into service to set up more unannounced checkpoints than ever. It is imperative that trucks abide by legal weight limits at all times.

        The technology used in Vulcan On-Board Scales systems is more than 30 years old. It has been perfected by Stress-Tek and modified to produce a precise fit with the types of trucks that are being monitored.

        All the changes in Vulcan On-Board Scales systems have been designed with the customer in focus. Among them are improved strain gauge based air sensors that were added to air ride suspensions and hydraulic sensors for vehicles with hydraulic lift cylinders.

        The array of load cell and sensor types offered in Vulcan systems is quite broad. Included are pressure, shear pin, single point, fifth wheel, trunnion and front fork options.

        Now the standard for the industry, the double shear beam load cell was developed by Vulcan. Vulcan also developed a center hanger load cell that eliminates twist, a mechanical phenomenon that can contribute to inaccuracy.

        For companies that want to record and store information for analysis, Vulcan On-Board works with on-board computers and wireless communications. In a just-in-time business climate, being able to relay information from a loading site or a road or a mill to a manager can give a hauler a real edge. On-board GPS systems, or directional aids derived from global positioning satellites, can be integrated with Vulcan.

        Sophisticated equipment can help simplify trucking operations, and supplying such equipment is the aim of Vulcan.

        In the past, businesses were vexed mostly by taxes. Today, there are taxes and regulations and liability exposure, as well as the demand for more information. Vulcan On-Board Scales chips away at the problematical nature of all those realities of doing business.

        Frankie, who enjoys spending free time with his family, traveling and playing golf, developed his knowledge and expertise of the trucking industry by listening and learning. “My introduction for this is through the dealership,” he explained. But that introduction served him well, he said, because he heard from customers in many industries about their needs, likes and dislikes in terms of equipment.

                “We have a broad range of customers” at McComb Diesel, said Frankie. He enjoys every part of that business and the new business venture of Harvest Haul. “Very much, the customers that we have the opportunity to deal with” make both enterprises rewarding, he said.


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