Truck Drivers Falter Under the Weight of High Fuel Prices

The rising price of diesel hits independent owner/operators the hardest

Melzer takes pride in working as an independent. He knows he's a faster driver, and can haul freight better, than any com­pany man.

At the diesel pump next to Melzer's International, there was an 18-wheeler loaded with three farm tractors. The driver walked the length of the rig, yanking on straps and checking the underside of the trailer.

"I guarantee you he's an independent," Melzer says.

Bubba Melzer, an independent trucker from Crosby, has lost about half his income due to high diesel prices.
Paul Knight
Bubba Melzer, an independent trucker from Crosby, has lost about half his income due to high diesel prices.
A Houston police officer checks the weight of a tanker truck.
Paul Knight
A Houston police officer checks the weight of a tanker truck.

Sure enough, the driver was. His name was Mark Kilpatrick, and he had driven a load of steel pipe to Houston from Alberta, Canada. The tractors were destined for a Canadian ranch.

Kilpatrick told a story similar to that of most owner/operators, with his monthly income cut in half since last year. Kilpatrick was trying to sell his car back home to continue running his truck. He's being more selective with the loads he hauls, hoping to keep the truck in good enough condition to sell in another six months.

"It's obscene," Kilpatrick says. "Nobody is paying for loads, but there's always another idiot out there who will take it. It's really not worth it."

It was near dark at the Flying J when Melzer finished fueling. He hung up the nozzles and hurried inside to pay his bill. Melzer had a long drive ahead.

He says his only plan is to keep driving, and try to survive to the next load.

paul.knight@houstonpress.com

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