By Carmen K. Sisson | Randall-Reilly Publishing/Mack Trucks
SEATTLE — Long-term success in a competitive field like drayage requires adaptability and a willingness to explore new technologies and practices. At Seattle-based Graham Trucking, success meant upgrading their aging fleet, even though many of their older Mack® trucks were still performing well, some after decades of use. Improved fuel mileage, lower repair costs and more driver amenities made the new models an obvious choice.
Graham Trucking, founded by Robert Graham in 1983, specializes in intermodal drayage and heavy containerized freight. They also handle refrigerated freight and hourly flatbed work in and around Seattle and the Pacific Northwest.
Since 1980, the company has grown from one tractor to one of the largest Drayage companies on the west coast, with a 60:40 sleeper to day cab ratio. Initially, they were based at the Port of Seattle terminal, working barge lines between Washington and Alaska. Now, they are based south of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, in a bustling, multimodal environment. They operate one of the largest drayage and super chassis fleets in the state, handling everything from international freight to container delivery for local department stores and produce suppliers.
In the past, Graham’s strategy was to use their trucks until maintenance costs became too high, but new port regulations have forced them to rethink their strategy, and Mack has proved to be a key element in reaching port compliance.
Currently, the Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy requires all trucks to be 1994 models or newer, but by January 2018, only 2007 and newer models will be allowed.
The newer trucks feature greatly reduced emissions, but the upgrade requirements have presented a challenge for many companies, including Graham Trucking.
Though only 40 percent of the local drayage fleets are estimated to be in compliance, Graham Trucking’s recent purchase of 10 new Mack® Pinnacle™ trucks finalized their transition, says operations manager Mike Graham. Their local Mack dealer, TEC Equipment, got the trucks they needed in a transaction structured to the fleet’s operations.
“In our business, with our customer base, being compliant is not optional,” Graham says.
The Grahams have always been Mack fans, appreciating their power and durability, so it was a hard choice to switch from a 100 percent Mack fleet to a mixed fleet. One of their oldest Macks, a 1994 model, is still going strong. But the younger fleet enables them to meet port compliance and the Graham’s feel Mack is a far better option for reliability and driver satisfaction than any others.
So far, the fleet only has one mDRIVE™ -equipped Pinnacle in operation, but drivers like the automated manual transmission and there is a notable improvement in fuel mileage, Mike Graham says.
“We’ve had two different drivers in it, and they love the truck,” he says. “There’s a lot of training that takes place. You can’t just put a guy who’s driven a stick into an AMT — there’s nuances he needs to know.”
Working with their dealer, Tony Molina of TEC Equipment in Des Moines, Washington, has been crucial in helping them tweak their specs to meet their power and regulatory needs.
The fleet’s Pinnacles previously had one lift axle, but Mike Graham and TEC’s Molina added a second lift axle and a 445-hp MP®8 engine. Bridge laws in Washington and Oregon require a long wheel base — typically between 240-250 inches — to maximize their legal carry weight.
Pricing, parts availability, Mack’s legendary durability and the ability to spec to match application have made the new tractors valuable additions to the fleet, Graham says.
“They work beautifully for the configurations that we already had on some of our other trucks,” he says. “We couldn’t be happier. The drivers love them.”
The truck spec is critical, given the specialized nature of the container chassis Graham hauls. The fleet used to run four-axle, 53-foot container “super chassis,” but now the fleet has switched to 41-foot “ultra-light” chassis, bringing the chassis weight down from 12,500 pounds to 7,000 pounds, which permits heavier loads.
Driver retention is a constant issue for trucking companies nationwide and Graham’s drivers face a particular set of stressors: challenging terrain, new regulations, heavy traffic and long idle times at ports.
Graham Trucking works hard to keep drivers happy, paying hourly and making sure their trucks are comfortable with plenty of amenities.
“With driver retention being critical now, it’s nice to give the drivers something very comfortable to drive, and Mack has been able to meet that comfort level with these new trucks,” Graham says. “They want to be comfortable when they’re in that truck all day, especially locally. It’s paramount in driver retention.”
Electronic logging devices and other modern technologies are frustrating to some drivers, but Graham tries to strike a balance between driver happiness and regulatory compliance.
Despite the trucking industry’s challenges, business remains steady. Graham Trucking, like many companies, took a heavy hit during the 2008 recession and terminal strikes, but they have emerged stronger — a trend Graham expects to continue. He credits his brother Robert for the company’s forward-thinking success.
“My brother is a mastermind of being 10 steps ahead of the game, whether it’s in business or equipment or trucks,” Graham says. “It’s fun to watch. It’s fun to learn.”
The new Macks fit well into that equation, offering much-needed reliability. Issues are rare and the technicians at TEC handle repairs quickly.
“In the time that we’ve owned these, we haven’t had a lot happen,” Graham says. “With these new Mack purchases, things have been going well. We’ll know a bit more as we get more data, but for now, we’re very happy.”