Iowans are griping about the cost of gasoline as prices approach four dollars a gallon, but imagine having to keep a fleet of semis fueled with diesel for routine cross-country jaunts.
Jeff Arens is general manager of the Le Mars-based Schuster Trucking Company, which has 450 trucks on the roads across the U.S. and Canada. “With fuel prices making 15 to 20-cent jumps per day, some of these weeks, you end up pretty upside-down on your cost per mile on things,” Arens says, “especially with a company like Schuster purchasing roughly 125 to 150,000 gallons a week, it can make a big impact at the end of the day.”
All of the company’s routes are under contract and estimating the cost to deliver products to far-away destinations is becoming exceptionally challenging. “Looking at the West Coast where prices today reached over $6.50 a gallon for diesel, if you’re running from Le Mars to California, that’s a three-day run and with the prices changing almost hourly, you eat the difference on what you’re not able to recoup right now.”
Higher fuel prices mean higher prices for the products the company hauls — including with two of its major contracts at Wells Blue Bunny ice cream, or hardware tools for Bomgaars. Plus, it’s more than the diesel.
“It affects trucking not just in fuel, but the amount of pieces on our equipment that are based from oil,” Arens says. “There’s the tires, the belts on the engine, the oil the engine’s running on, any of the plastic that is on the equipment, even brake pads, and brake shoes are all oil-based products.” Arens says Schuster is trying to make certain each truck and trailer is aerodynamic to help reduce the amount of fuel needed to run on the highways.
“Well-maintained equipment, clean air filters, proper tire inflation, things of that nature, whether it’s a car or a truck, will help your fuel economy,” Arens says. “We’re looking all the time to make sure we’re doing maintenance as best as possible.”
Orville Schuster started Schuster Grain in 1956 with one truck hauling grain in and around Sioux City, eventually expanding to include refrigerated and dry van services. After 60 years, the company now hauls a wide range of products, from frozen Bomb Pops to ball-peen hammers, across much of North America.
(By Dennis Morrice, KLEM, Le Mars)