Construction is proceeding briskly at the new Robert Heath Trucking Inc terminal in Dallas, Texas. It is perhaps the most visible indication that the refrigerated truckload carrier is in full growth mode.
Just the third terminal in the Robert Heath Trucking system, the 15-acre facility should be operational by mid-July. The fleet also is growing, and recent equipment purchases include 60 53-ft Hyundai refrigerated trailers with Carrier Transicold refrigeration. In all, the fleet runs 190 tractors and 342 refrigerated trailers.
“We see Dallas as a big opportunity, and we expect to achieve good things in this market,” says Terri Heath Shankle, owner and chairman of the board of Robert Heath Trucking. “We want to grow, and we believe Dallas gives us access to a larger pool of company drivers and owneroperators. We’ll have 50 trucks based in Dallas by the time our new terminal opens in July, and it is reasonable to expect that we will be running at least 100 trucks here in the next couple of years.”
Shankle says the refrigerated carrier sees enough potential in the Dallas market that she and her husband moved there a couple of years ago to oversee operations. Jimmy Shankle, her husband, is chief executive officer.
Terri and Jimmy started out in Lubbock, Texas, where the trucking company was founded in 1939 by Robert Heath, Terri’s father. He launched the enterprise with a single tractor-trailer rig, hauling West Texas beef.
Over the following decades, the refrigerated fleet grew steadily and the company expanded its range of cargoes to include produce, beer, and water. Operations are concentrated in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, but the carrier also serves some customers in the Midwest and Southeast.
“We still do a lot of Texas loads, and a significant percentage of our loads still originate in West Texas,” Jimmy says. “We are still focused on refrigerated cargoes, and that isn’t likely to change. After all, people always have to eat no matter what the economy does, and that means there is always food to be transported.”
In addition to being a Texas-based carrier, Robert Heath Trucking is very much a family owned company. Along with Terri and Jimmy, the management team includes Jody Heath, Terri’s cousin, president of Robert Heath Trucking, and Brent Shankle, Terri and Jimmy’s son and chief operating officer and assistant chief financial officer.
“We plan for this to remain a family owned business, and we have already moved into the third generation of family involvement,” says Terri, who inherited the company when her father died in 1994. “It’s also important to note that this is a woman-owned business, which has opened opportunities for us.
“Beyond family, we have a great group of employees in this company, and they are the biggest factor in our success. Many of our managers have been with us 30 years or more. They make it possible for us to give our customers outstanding personalized service.”
As the daughter of the company founder, Terri grew up in the trucking business. During the 1970s, she worked in the Direct Services operation, a subsidiary of Robert Heath Trucking that operated in the eastern United States and was later merged into the parent company.
Jimmy’s father drove for Robert Heath Trucking for 20 years. Following five seasons as a catcher in the minor league side of the Boston Red Sox organization, Jimmy came home, married Terri, and worked part time for Robert Heath Trucking while attending college in Lubbock. After finishing with a masters degree, Jimmy spent the next 10 years coaching college baseball.
Lubbock was the focal point for much of the carrier’s 74 years, and the headquarters terminal is still there. In addition to the new terminal going up in Dallas, the carrier has a facility in San Antonio, Texas.
“Our Lubbock terminal occupies 15 acres and has 8,000 square feet of office, an eight-bay maintenance shop, and two-bay tractor and trailer wash rack,” Jimmy says. “We have enough room that we could put 100 tractors and 150 trailers in Lubbock.
“Our new Dallas terminal has the same acreage as Lubbock, and the terminal building includes a five-bay maintenance shop and one tractor-trailer wash bay. Our San Antonio terminal is on three acres, and we have 30 to 35 tractors there.”
Terri and Jimmy set up the San Antonio terminal while Jimmy coached baseball at the University of Texas, San Antonio campus. “We saw a great opportunity for expansion when we built this terminal 14 years ago,” Terri says. “It was our first satellite terminal.”
With the West Coast runs, trips average 600 to 700 miles. Still, the carrier is able to tell drivers that home time averages at least one day a week. “We try to pay attention to the family needs of our drivers,” Terri says.
Robert Heath Trucking recruits truck drivers who are at least 25 years old and have a minimum of one year overthe- road truck driving experience. Reefer experience is preferred but not required.
Drivers are assigned to a fleet of late model tractors that are spec’d for comfort and productivity. “We run the equipment that makes the most money for us,” Jimmy says. “With few exceptions, we run a variety of brands to help ensure that we are getting the most competitive pricing.”
Freightliner tractors predominate in the fleet, but the carrier also runs Volvo trucks. The Freightliner Cascadia Evolution is the latest addition to the fleet and is part of a campaign to boost fuel efficiency throughout the fleet.
“With the Cascadia Evolution, we like the potential to achieve even better fuel efficiency than we got with the original Cascadia,” Jimmy says. “We’re hoping the Evolution aerodynamics treatment gives us at least a half-mile-per-gallon improvement in fuel economy. We spec’d the 500-horsepower Detroit DD15, which has proved to be a great engine.”
Other tractors in the fleet are specified with 475-hp engines. The typical transmission for the Robert Heath Trucking fleet is the Eaton Fuller 10- speed manual, but some of the Volvos have the I-Shift automated transmission.
All of the tractors have PeopleNet on-board computers with electronic driver log and satellite tracking capabilities.
“We started e-logs two years ago,” Jimmy says. “We believe the system gives our drivers the ability to be better and safer at what they do.”
Raised-roof, double-bunk, 72-inch sleepers are standard for the fleet. Driver features include a refrigerator in the sleeper and Sirius radio. All tractors in the fleet have Thermo King’s TriPac auxiliary power unit.
On the trailer side, the fleet runs Great Dane and Hyundai reefers. The 53-foot-long trailers have two inches of insulation, fiberglass-reinforced plastic interior side walls, and corrugated aluminum floors.
“We decided to try the Hyundai reefer on the recommendation of John Chisholm at W&B Service Co,” Jimmy says. “We began developing a good relationship with him when we launched the Dallas operation. We’re very pleased with the price and performance of the Hyundai reefers.”
All of the trailers have Carrier Transicold refrigeration. Carrier’s 7500 X4 nosemount unit was chosen for the new Hyundai trailers.
“We standardized on Carrier refrigeration about 16 years ago after running a comparison test that showed Carrier delivered better fuel economy for our operation,” Jimmy says.
“W&B also sells and services Carrier refrigeration, which is another plus for us. W&B branches are spread across our operating area, making it easy for us to get service on the road. They bend over backwards to service our fleet.”
Robert Heath Trucking makes extensive use of trailer aerodynamics treatments to maximize fuel economy. Hyundai trailers have the UT6 Trailer UnderTray aerodynamics package from SmartTruck Systems. Great Dane trailers are specified with Freightwing side skirts and Trailer Tail rear aerodynamics from ATDynamics.
For running gear, the newest trailers were spec’d with Hendrickson’s Vantraax axle/air suspension system. Meritor tire inflation by PSI is standard for the fleet.
The fleet gives Robert Heath Trucking the ability to run strong and meet customer needs for efficient, reliable, on-time refrigerated transportation. That focus on the customer has been a key factor in driving success for the carrier throughout its 74-year history.