Good evening ladies and gents,
(Just a heads up, I wasn't kidding that this is an extensive review)
Just wanted to sing praises for my company. If they were just an average gig, I wouldn't bother because nobody really cares about average, now do they? However, I feel that these guys are deserving of a kind word or two. In short, they have gone above and beyond.
First, a little bit of a background. First of all, I am deaf. Not completely, but enough to be deaf. I was an aircraft detailing manager in Colorado Springs, CO a few years ago. It wasn't a bad deal, especially as a pilot who naturally loved working with planes. I was privileged to work on some pretty high end stuff, and it was very rewarding. However, my passion was, and still is, flying. I had my heart set on becoming a cropduster pilot.
Long story short, my job led me to meeting a customer who, himself, was a manager for a cropdusting company, and we agreed to sit down and discuss the possibility of me making the jump over to cropdusting. So that's what we did. He explained I'd have to start from the ground up, meaning working as a ground crew and learn the ropes from scratch, since I had no ag/farm background. Would require CDL-A with Haz/Tank endorsements, none of which I had. After a few months of discussions over the phone, he got the owner of the company to agree to pay for my CDL in exchange for verbal commitment to work at least two years for them. No repayment or contract.
Fast forward to two years later - I've been working for these guys for two years. It was brutal work, and most definitely a bit shady in terms of logs (in other words, we only made up logs if we were going to be going through a weigh station and they had to be completely made up. We worked 14-18 hours a day with zero days off for weeks on end, so there was no way to ever be legal.) I had been driving mostly straight tanker trucks or hopper/auger trucks, with some combination vehicle as needed (fuel tanker). Made real good money first year, decent money second year. I realized at the end of the second year, due to a number of factors, that this wasn't in the cards for me. I was actually very close to getting a seat as a paid pilot in an airplane - they had started evaluating me for flying performance in consideration of putting me into an airplane possibly the following year. I was so close, but ultimately it came down to flying or my family. And I chose my family.
I started looking around for trucking work after taking a few months off - stayed away from most of the megas but put my app out to quite a few places, and got some callbacks. After a couple days, I narrowed down my choices to Crete, Navajo, Heartland Express, and Girton/LLL. Crete was the first one I eliminated - the pay package just didn't attract me, in addition to having heard more negative things about them than good things. Navajo was an interesting option, for a dedicated DEN-SLC run, home every other night, $0.50 (or something similar, I don't recall exactly)/mile. That one was really tempting but ultimately I declined that one because I wasn't thrilled with the idea of running up and down I-70 day in and day out. (This turned out to be a smart choice for me personally, since I figured out later on that I'm not a fan of mountain driving. It doesn't bother me so much as it just irritates me and just isn't fun). Heartland Express took a little while to call me back, but I held out for them because one of my CDL trainers recommended them to me pretty strongly, so I was willing to wait and hear what they had to offer. They came back with $0.44/mile and must stay out 4-6 weeks. I declined. I'm willing to run hard but I'm not going to go with a company that forces me to stay out for over a month. That was part of the reason why I left the cropdusting job.
That left Girton.
Girton is exclusively a tanker operation, primarily ag and industrial chemicals, ethanol, and propane. No fuel. Because of my experience with the cropdusting company, I was able to qualify enough to be of interest for Girton. They require 2 years tanker experience, but my understanding is they may take less than that on a case by case basis. Not sure though. They run a good variety of trucks like long nose Petes as well as 389’s (although these seem to be in the process of being phased out. Most of the ones I have seen are now in the “graveyard”), KW T600/660, and Coronados. I’m told they also have Cascadias and ProStars but I have not seen any of those, so they may be based elsewhere and just have not seen them. They run both O/O and Company drivers, and most of their drivers are Company. I don’t know how many trucks they have but I believe it is between 150 and 200. I could be way off on that though, so don’t quote me. Point is, it’s a decent sized company but not big enough to become just a number – I find that they’ve got a nice sweet spot as far as company size goes.
Pearl was my recruiter, and she was extremely communicative and responsive, which, for me as a deaf guy, actually means a lot to me. Based on what she told me, and what I actually experienced on the job after 8 months, she doesn't ######## you. She didn't make promises that weren't kept (in fact, she didn't really make any promises, now that I think about it. That's a GOOD thing!), she was true to her word on pay package, on trucks, on dates and times and details, etc. I had zero nasty surprises whatsoever. So that right there is a big plus, when you know that the recruiter is doing their job but they aren't doing it at your expense.
It wasn't a hard decision to go with Girton. They offered $0.40, which wasn't the best, admittedly. But they made it up with good miles and decent accessorial pay. $20 per stop, detention pay for any holdups over 2 hours, and breakdown pay in the equivalent of 565 miles/day ($225), and promised 2700-2800 per week average, for an average pay of $1,320/week.
They flew me out (I believe it was the following week or sometime around that) to Kansas City the last week of September for orientation. Got picked up by shuttle with another driver, taken to a hotel in Mission, KS, which is where their HQ is. There was myself and 4 other recruits.
We did classroom orientation for the first day and a half, (Monday all day and first half of Tuesday). After we wrapped that up on Tuesday afternoon, we (trainer and 5 recruits) all piled into a pickup truck and drove over to St. Louis to pick up 5 trucks/trailers that needed to be moved to our yard in Elwood, KS. Each one of us got a T600 with a trailer, and took them over to Elwood (located just across the river from St Joe, MO, about a 4-hour drive. If I remember right, we started arriving there at about 10 or 11 or so. My understanding is that this was not a typical occurrence for new drivers to do this, but for us it was an interesting day, nevertheless. It did not go off without a hitch though, as one of the drivers got lost and got himself completely stuck in a residential area not even a mile away from the yard. We got over there and bailed him out, but not before the local cop gave him a ticket lol. Serves him right – he tore up some poor guy’s yard pretty good trying to get himself out of the hole he dug.
Wednesday and Thursday were some light classroom training but mostly spent outside training on the trailers (loading/unloading). Friday was test drive day. We drive almost all smoothbore tanks, so the trainer paid particular attention to how well you handled the surge. The driver who got his truck stick the first night flunked out on the driving portion. Turns out that he had very minimal experience with manuals,and could not consistently shift.
A pre-trip then a brief drive of about 5 miles or so for each of us. Easy enough.
The surge took me a bit to get used to, as I had been driving 3,000-5,000 gallon baffled tanks, so smoothbore was a new game for me. Didn’t take too long for me to get the hang of it though.
Girton/LLL Transport - Extended Review
I was assigned to my truck that day as well, a purple Pete 389. I was really happy with my assignment, honestly. This was my first OTR gig so they probably could’ve stuck me into one of the older T600’s and that would’ve been fine, but I got lucky and was given one of the nicer rigs (as opposed to the older T600's. Those are still pretty decent though.).
Anyways, so onto the job itself. I got paired up with a dispatcher, and, again, being deaf and having unique communication needs, my dispatcher picked up on that very quickly (within a day or two), and clicked with me very well. He has been a dream to work with. Like I said, this is my first OTR job, and as such, this was also my first dispatcher. But I have read enough on the forums and talked to enough drivers to know that dispatch can make or break your day, week, month, or career, and that there are plenty of dispatchers out there that know jack about what they’re doing.
This guy, however, has been pure gold. He starts you out slow, gives you more than plenty of time to make your runs, and starts gradually ramping up the runs, making them tighter and closer together until he finds your sweet spot and that’s where he runs you at. Some guys like to run 2000 miles a week, others 3000. Me, personally, despite being new, I hit the ground running as hard as I could and ever since then I have, more or less, run as hard as the e-logs will allow me to. I can easily run 3000+ miles if I don't get assigned short runs. I frequently get my clocks down to the last 15-30 minutes before shutting down. And my dispatcher keeps me there. I don’t think, in the 8 months I have been with Girton, I have ever sat waiting for a load. I have been sitting and waiting for something, and happen to be waiting for a load at the same time, but I have never sat waiting JUST for a load. Dispatch is on their game and you will run nonstop if you can handle it. They also are very communicative, helpful, and accommodating. Really really awesome staff in the office. Same goes for HR, Compliance, Payroll... I have never had issues with anyone, and they all are extremely helpful and on point. Every time I've had an issue with pay, they fix it immediately. Compliance doesn't play games or allow a whole lot of leeway, but that's a good thing because the tighter the ship that they run, the better it is for you as a driver. If you butt heads with compliance here at Girton, I can guarantee you that you're the problem, not them.
Hometime is as easy as asking for it. They prefer amble advance notice, but essentially it comes down to this: if you want it, you’ll get it. As long as you’re reasonable though. During peak season (April-October) they prefer to keep hometime down as much as you can. But in my experience, they don’t force anything. I recently needed to get home for a week, which is much longer than they prefer you to go home especially during peak season. All I needed to do was make a request from HR (dispatch wasn’t able to authorize that much hometime) and they got back to me almost immediately and no questions asked other than clarification on exactly when I needed to be home and for how long. I try to follow the guideline of one week out = one day home, so I try to get home about every two-three weeks and take 2-3 days off. I am allowed to take the truck home with me, again no questions asked. Trailer and all. As long as you have a place to safely park it, it’s yours. You are also allowed limited personal conveyance as well. (I believe the limit is 2 hours). Again, as long as you don’t abuse their flexibility and allowances, they will never pester you about anything.
Runs are anywhere from 300 to 1500 miles. Typically, in the case of the Elwood based drivers, you’ll go out and back, with loading either having been done by a small dedicated crew of local pre-loaders, or you yourself go a short distance away and get loaded. Once in a while, while you are out on a delivery, you may get redirected somewhere nearby to be loaded again or to swap trailers to be loaded with a different product or to be washed out etc etc, you get the idea. The majority of my runs are to the north/northwest, with some runs to Arizona/Utah, as well as lots of runs to the eastern half of the Midwest, some southeast, and occasional northwest. Basically we go all over the place. I haven’t been sent to Cali or Nevada yet, but have been pretty much everywhere else except the extreme northeast (ME, NH, VT). They do run to Canada but only if you have the ability to do so, and even then only if you’re willing to.
I have never, ever said no to any request from dispatch. I’m one of those drivers who, no matter how terrible the run is, I simply never say no. It’s just not an option. That being said, they are not a forced dispatch. I have never ever been forced to do anything. Never been coerced, never been threatened, nothing. They have been nothing but courteous and respectful with me.
I have had one non-reportable incident on the job resulting in some minor damage. Called dispatch, called insurance, answered some questions, filled out a statement, and that was the end of it. I never heard anything else. I got ribbed for a long time by the guys back at the yard but no one gave me any foul treatment for it. It didn’t need to be said that they expected me to understand it should never happen again, but they handled it like I wish all companies would handle incidents like this. Low key, no fuss, process it and drop it. Very professional and respectful.
The trucks are governed at 74 (I think some of them are less but most of them are 70-74), and they are maintained quite well. You can run as hard as you want, and their idle policy is extremely liberal. As in, when asked what their idle policy was, I was told "Just be comfortable". I have idled for days on end in the colder or warmer times and no one has ever said a peep to me.They don't just make claims of caring for their drivers, but the way they've treated me proves that they truly do care about their drivers.
My 386 was having problems with the DPF about 2 months into the job, and I kept going down for maintenance so they offered to switch me to a Coronado, which I accepted. I have been in the Coronado since, and it has been a champ. With it having 830,000 miles it’s bound to have issues here and there, but they have been manageable and reasonable, so we fix it up as needed and keep it rolling. Everything that I have asked them to fix, they do it. Asked for an inverter, they installed one an hour later. I asked if I could install a new seat because the one that came with the truck was giving me some pretty good pains, and was willing to buy my own. They told me to come into the shop and they put a brand new one in for me, no charge, no questions asked. The mechanics are very quick to get you fixed up and going, and I really can’t say enough good things about the guys in the shop. The head maintenance guy has it together and while he’s grouchy (in a lovable way… you know the type), he gets you taken care of like nobody else does. If his crew doesn’t step up, he makes sure they hear about it. Such a good crew in the shop, and I never have to worry about getting the mechanical attention I need, when I need it.
They’re in the process of getting some new trucks, so while they may not have the newest fleet out there, they do take good care of what they do have, and they are working to replace what needs to be replaced.
Now, for the money shot (ha… see what I did there?), I’ve closely tracked my miles and income numbers, using a spreadsheet, and when I started writing this review, I was curious to see just how closely they matched up with the recruiter’s claims.
As a refresher, the claim from the recruiter was 2700-2800 miles/week, averaging $1,320 gross.
My averages from Jan 1st to mid June?
I’d say that’s pretty #### close. If y’all don’t believe me, let me know and I will post a pdf of the spreadsheet. No joke though, she was spot on. If you run reasonably hard and don't fool around, you will earn $1300 a week, netting about $900 average after taxes and benefits.
So I will just wrap up with this final message:
Girton is a dxmn good company. I know I haven’t been around the block a whole lot of times, and I am relatively green in this industry, I’m also no dummy. I know a good company when I see one, and if you get an offer to work for Girton, you’d do well to seriously consider it. Being tanker, it may be difficult to get on board unless you have tanker experience, but they’re good enough that I often recommend to unhappy van drivers to consider seeking an entry level tanker position and getting the experience necessary to apply for a positon with Girton. You will be treated well, and you will run as hard as you want. Like many drivers here will remind you of, it’s not necessarily the per-mile pay, but rather the miles you run that will determine how much you earn. I am on track to have earned $69k this year. Is that the best? No, of course not. But I also don’t break a sweat earning it, and the stress level with these guys is extremely low. That right there is worth it’s weight in gold.
On a personal note, leaving the cropdusting industry was the hardest decision of my life. I had worked harder and more passionately to get that close to flying than I could ever tell you guys about, and I was right there, almost had it made. So, walking away was a very tough thing for me to do.
Girton made my decision so much easier to swallow, to live with, and even to learn to love and embrace it.
They are. A lot of former (perhaps some are still on board? I honestly don't know for sure) drivers seem to trash the company for having gone downhill since the merger, but my experience has been nothing but good.