GOSHEN — With much of the country on lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, local trucking companies are on the front lines of the battle as they do all they can to ensure the country’s supply chain does not falter amidst the chaos of the virus’ spread.
One such company is Ag Trucking Inc. of Goshen. With a fleet of about 165 drivers, Ag Trucking delivers freight to all 48 states in the continental United States, as well as the eastern provinces of Canada.
“Three quarters of our business is transporting food ingredients, so our entire company takes this as a great responsibility every day, but even more so now, that we make sure we do everything we can to continue the operation as smoothly as possible to make sure that all of our food deliveries are happening on time and getting to where they need to go,” said Casey Stump, vice president of Ag Trucking Inc. “As for how things are going right now, it seems to be so far so good. The trucks are pretty much moving as normal, and we’re seeing freight demand pretty much in line with what it was before this pandemic started.”
As for how the company’s drivers are responding to the pandemic, Stump noted a number of new procedures have been put in place to try and limit driver exposure to the virus.
“The drivers are able to self-isolate most of the day in their trucks, and when they’re outside of their vehicles, they’re definitely taking precautions with personal protective equipment, and social distancing, hand sanitizer, washing hands, things like that,” Stump said.
Dexter Baber, a manager with the local trucking company Pro Fleet Transport Corp., offered a similar sentiment when addressing how his company is responding to the pandemic.
Based out of Elkhart, Pro Fleet Transport boasts a fleet of about 50 trucks that primarily ship building materials to companies such as The Home Depot.
“We kind of saw this thing building up, so we ramped up a lot of things prior to the big push out last week of all the precautions. So, we already had latex gloves for all of our drivers, we had bottles of bleach solution for all of our drivers, hand sanitizer, you name it,” Baber said. “So, they’ve been instructed to use that, not to use other peoples’ pens, to keep their work gloves on if they are out of latex gloves, etc. So, we have some precautions put in place.”
While it can be easy to get hung up on all the negative aspects of the pandemic, Stump noted there have been a few unexpected pluses for the industry when it comes to the national response to the virus.
“One positive for truck drivers right now is that there’s no traffic. So, when they’re traversing through cities like Chicago, they’re just breezing right through, instead of the stop and go traffic that they usually have to deal with,” Stump said. “But in general, our drivers are doing a fantastic job. I’ve always felt that they are heroes for our economy, and I believe that right now, the country is seeing that first hand.”
As an example, Stump noted that just more than 70% of the goods being delivered in the United States today are being transported via truck.
“And based off of some metrics I’m seeing coming out of the industry right now, I’d bet that number is even higher at the moment,” he added of the industry’s importance when it comes to maintaining the country’s supply chain.
Baber was quick to agree.
“If trucking was ever forced to stop, the ramifications would be unfathomable,” Baber said. “I mean, everything from gasoline, to food, to literally anything in your house, it came off of a truck. So, if trucks stopped, it would be dire.”
When Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb earlier this week ordered a majority of Hoosiers to stay home for two weeks in an effort to slow the spread of the virus, trucking companies such as Ag Trucking and Pro Fleet Transport were deemed “essential” companies, and thus exempted from the order.
“I mean, it has definitely been pretty crazy out there, but since we’re considered an essential business, most of our regular business has been pretty good,” Baber said. “And we haven’t really had too many problems for our drivers, but we have seen a little bit of slow down, and just a lot of variability as far as them being able to get from place to place, making sure they have somebody to receive the product once they get there, etc.”
While it can be difficult to stay motivated amidst all the uncertainty and fear surrounding the COVID-19 virus, Baber noted he and his team are thankful for the outpouring of support they’ve been receiving from the public via social media and other outlets.
“One of the things we’ve been doing is checking in with our drivers, and keeping track of all the good will that’s been happening out there,” Baber said. “For example, some of the Home Depots are now supplying our drivers with boxed lunches. There have even been some scale houses that have been giving out boxed lunches when they come by because so many restaurants are now closed, and it’s harder and harder for our drivers to get food.
“And then we’ve also seen an outpouring of support on social media,” he added. “So, it’s been pretty cool to watch people really recognize that, yes, it’s important to support our first responders, and our doctors, and our health workers, but the foundation of our country is really getting goods from place to place so that people can use them.”
That said, Stump made a point of noting that fear of the virus’ spread can be a powerful thing, and that fear has resulted in some hardships and misunderstandings when it comes to how companies are interacting with the nation’s drivers.
“In addition to all the good will that’s out there, the drivers are also seeing some challenges with shippers and receivers, for example, because they’re restricting human contact as much as possible, and, in some instances, not even allowing drivers to use the restroom,” Stump said. “So, we try to monitor that closely and work with those shippers and receivers to educate them and let them know that that’s not a good plan. We understand that everyone needs to be safe right now, but that includes the men and women that are behind the wheel.”