Units worth fighting over

Greg Severt knows something about drivers. As president of Severt Trucking Inc in Jacksonville, Florida, he has been one for more than 30 years, starting out as an owner-operator in 1971. For instance, he knows that drivers are attracted to a company by the equipment it offers, that drivers get excited by tractors, and that they rarely get too worked up over trailers and refrigeration units. That last bit of knowledge became subject to change after Severt added new trailers with Thermo King SB-200 refrigeration units to the fleet.

“Once we put the new equipment into service, drivers literally began arguing over who got to pull the new trailers,” Severt says. “That's when we knew we had a new attraction for drivers.”

Severt Trucking has made its reputation by attracting drivers. Since the late 1970s, the company has provided consistent third-morning delivery between Florida and California. Outbound from Florida, the company runs poultry and dairy products, including ice cream. The return is produce for the Publix supermarket chain, Movsovitz Produce, and Sysco Food Services. With a fleet of 35 tractors and 40 refrigerated trailers, teams of drivers make one round trip every seven to eight days.

Premium equipment, high mileage

Premium equipment and the promise of high mileage keep drivers coming to Severt Trucking. Tractors are Model 379 Peterbilts with Caterpillar engines. Built to the specifications most owner-operators want, the tractors are longnose 127-inch conventionals with a 63-inch raised-roof sleeper. With engines rated at 475 or 500 horsepower, Severt's teams can cruise at 72 mph and still get fuel mileage better than six miles per gallon. At cruising speed, engines are barely turning 1,500 rpm, he says.

That fuel mileage comes without benefit of an aerodynamic package. In fact, Severt's tractors have deep, flat bright metal bumpers, dual exterior air cleaners, four air horns, a deep polished stainless steel sun visor, and five bullet lamps on the roof. The only bow to aerodynamics is a Taylor wing, an inverted airfoil mounted on the sleeper roof. In addition to the bullet markers on the roof, Severt tractors carry enough decorative lamps along the front edge of the doors, the lower edge of the front bumper, and lower edge of the cab and sleeper to light Las Vegas.

In addition to the cosmetic touches drivers want, Severt Trucking adds the best ride possible. Starting with long wheelbase conventional tractors, the company adds air suspension for the drive axles, air suspension for the cab and sleeper, and high-back air-ride seats for both drivers.

Along with performance and creature comforts, Severt's drivers get the miles needed to keep them well paid and happy. Weekly turns to California put more than 200,000 miles a year on tractors. Within three years, tractors have logged more than 700,000 miles and are ready for trade.

No driver shortage

The result of this concern for driver desires is a waiting list of teams who want to work at Severt Trucking. “We have good drivers and no shortage of them,” he says. “Most of our teams are husband and wife, and many of them have been here 10 years or longer. To make sure we know what they face on the road, I still drive one trip per month when the business schedule will allow it.”

Trailers began to enter the equation for attracting drivers in early 2001. It was at that point that John Pratte, sales manager of Thermo King of North Florida, invited Greg Severt to tour the Thermo King manufacturing plant in Puerto Rico. The plant was just beginning to produce the new SB-series trailer units. At the time, Severt Trucking had just two Thermo King units mixed into a fleet of trailers with Carrier Transicold units. The factory tour was a typical undertaking for Severt, an owner who literally immerses himself in every aspect of his company. Originally spun off from his father's produce business, Severt Trucking also employs Greg's two sons, Nick and Josh.

Team operation requires one driver or the other to sleep while the truck is rolling, so blocking noise out of the sleeper berth is a big concern. The new acoustical grille design and other noise reduction features of the SB-series helps reduce the amount of noise sleeper berth insulation needs to block.

Severt also liked the unit's new look and easy accessibility. “Not only was the design completely modern, but I knew my drivers and mechanics would appreciate the fact that it opens up at the front with everything readily accessible,” he says. Upon leaving Puerto Rico, Severt decided to split his next order for trailers and refrigeration units. Six new SB-200s made up half the company's trailer and refrigeration purchases in 2001. Taking advantage of appearance options, Severt chose black grilles for the new units. Black is the standard grille color for the SB-300, with gray as the standard color on the SB-200. With trailers running the same high mileage as tractors on cross-country lanes, Severt trades trailers on a five-year cycle.

Once the units were installed, Severt inadvertently conducted a noise pollution test of his own. He was standing about five feet from a trailer that had its unit running at high speed when his cell phone rang. “I answered the phone without walking off and was amazed that I could hear every word of the conversation,” he says.

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