by Paul Wiseman
From the last mile, in almost every case, to every mile in many cases, trucks are indispensable in today’s delivery-based economy. Nowhere is that more true than in the oil patch, where trucks haul everything from drill pipe to drilling rigs to the oil itself, over tens of thousands of road-miles every day. If oil is the lifeblood of the Permian Basin, trucks are the heart pumping that blood.
Richard Minnix, owner and president of McClatchy Brothers Trucking, represents the third generation of his family to own the company. In his time in the leadership role, since 2005, he’s seen lots of bumps in the road. While he is glad to see the oil industry in rebound mode after the COVID crisis, the trucking company still faces many of the same challenges as the rest of the oil patch.
“It’s actually been a challenge for many years now,” he began. “I’ve been involved in the trucking industry for 38 years.” In fact, he said, the entire trucking sector, no matter what industry it serves, is facing the same issue: “the shortage of truck drivers. That’s been the number one problem for a long time.”
There is a sort of Catch 22 to finding new truck drivers, because for most companies, “you have to be at least 23 or 24 years old to apply. That applies mainly to trucks crossing state lines—for intrastate operations, Minnix said, there are some new programs geared to younger drivers. But he feels that by the age of 23 or 24, many young people have already chosen other careers, which shrinks the pool for drivers. While Minnix understands that some maturity is in order before driving a multi-ton machine at highway speeds, there are other options. “You’ve got to get them in the truck to get some experience. There are companies out there who would love to have a trainer-driver with them, if we could get insurance companies to support that.”
Underlying this hiring challenge, for Minnix, is the number of longtime experienced drivers at McClatchy Bros who are reaching retirement age. In the next few years, many of them will leave, creating even more openings.
That is the first issue.
“But the second biggest hurdle we have is insurance. No insurance company wants to allow you to hire anybody that’s under 25 and doesn’t have two years’ experience. How do you get experience if you can’t get in the truck?” he asked.
For the root cause of insurance inflation he pointed to billboards lining interstates across the nation declaring large payouts for automobile drivers involved in accidents with commercial truckers. Minnix blamed some of the large payouts on powerful attorneys who rely on doctors who are in the lawyers’ pay for testimony. He said that Texas has recently passed laws allowing the trucking companies to challenge the lawyers’ expert witnesses regarding medical costs and other issues.
On that note, Minnix recalled a series of government-funded studies analyzing accidents involving trucks, to establish the at-fault ratio. In other words, when there’s a truck accident, whose fault is it in most cases?
What the study found was that, “In 84 percent of the accidents, it was the [driver of the] passenger vehicle’s fault.” A quick web search suggests other studies reporting that anywhere from 80 percent to 91 percent of truck-passenger accidents are the fault of the passenger vehicle driver.
The Issues Are Nationwide
According to a report from last fall citing a trucking industry poll conducted by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), the shortage of drivers is indeed a top issue, exceeded only by high fuel prices. In the previous year’s report, fuel issues were number two behind driver shortages, but the return of fuel demand and shortages due to international events were top causes for fuel prices to replace the driver issue in the top slot. Driver shortages had headed the list for the preceding five years.
Overall, said the ATRI, the nation is short 80,000 drivers, with unfilled positions expected to double, to 160,000 by 2030. One issue, as Minnix noted, is the fact that many older drivers will be retiring in the next five years. Other factors include the challenging lifestyle and increasing regulatory pressures.
ATRI said some industry stakeholders are proposing remedies such as reducing the licensing age to 18, improving the lifestyle by expanding truck parking options and reducing “detention at customer facilities—and recruiting more women to the profession.”
With data showing that 30 percent of the nation’s driver force at 55 years of age or older, a significant number of respondents to the ATRI survey feel that greater outreach to younger people is needed.
What would draw younger drivers? The report stated, “ATRI recently published Integrating Younger Adults into Trucking Careers, which included interviews with younger drivers on why they chose trucking and what they sought from trucking to stay in the industry. The research found that, while Millennial and Gen Z drivers are partially motivated by pay, the majority of them consider other factors equal to or even more important when it comes to joining or remaining with a motor carrier, and that 84 percent of younger drivers consider company culture important.”
Fueling the Future
With Elon Musk building electric trucks and global governments pushing for over the road haulers to switch to greener fuels, Minnix says he’s indeed investigated other options—and is dubious about their practicality. “I’ve looked at natural gas, CNG (compressed natural gas), and LNG (liquefied natural gas),” he said, indicating that these options were fine for short-haul, local-duty delivery trucks like UPS. But, “The trucks that go from coast to coast, they can’t do that.”
For long haulers, the problems include refueling time and maintenance. Also, for maintenance in a truck using compressed or liquefied fuel, those tanks must be emptied before service can begin, to prevent the possibility of leakage. Both of those issues make alternate fuels impractical for the company, in Minnix’s view. Plus, getting those specialized fuels to the remote locations required for oilfield pipe delivery seems unlikely, possibly stranding trucks in those distant zip codes.
Electronic logging has its benefits and challenges as well. Minnix notes that this logging, combined with GPS tracking, keeps drivers honest. If a driver reports being delayed in loading or unloading, but the GPS shows he was actually at McDonald’s, management will know.
On the other hand, there are times when a driver must sit in line for hours waiting to load or unload—and those delays are counted as road hours by the logging system. Minnix feels that sitting in a line should not count as road hours because drivers can rest or even sleep during that phase in some cases. And if a driver is five miles from home when his time is up, it is difficult to adjust for the few extra minutes to get home.
Started With a Card Game
“I was raised around this place. I’ve been here since I was two years old.” Minnix has worked for the company almost 39 years, buying it from his mother and his uncle in 2005. His grandfather brought him to the office on a regular basis, “So it’s something I’ve always grown up around and loved.” Still keeping his CDL, he’s driven trucks in days past, along with doing pretty much everything else.
It all started with two brothers named McClatchy—C. B. (Minnix’s grandfather) and D. A.—and a poker game in Wink, Texas, sometime around the start of World War II. The loser in the game had no money to pay the winners. He told the brothers he had six trucks and trailers, which, it turned out, were more fit for the junkyard than the oil patch, but they were all he had. With those trucks the brothers began a new era of their lives.
The family legacy began in earnest when they incorporated in 1942.
Each brother had two children. One child from each brother took the company to the next generation. One of those children was Minnix’s mother. When Minnix bought the company in 2005, it was owned by his mother and one of his cousins.
Will there be a fourth generation? Minnix’s son started working with the company in late 2022, to see if that’s a possibility. Minnix says it’s completely up to his son whether there is a generation four.
Gambling is No Longer in the Cards—Conservative Is the Word
Operating conservatively, with no debt, Minnix said the company survived the 2020 oilfield shutdown with a minimal number of layoffs. They currently run about 40 trucks across Texas and environs due north—Colorado, Wyoming, and North and South Dakota. At their largest, several years ago, the company had as many as 150 trucks.
In the early days, Minnix said, they hauled a few cattle. But McClatchy Bros has been focused on oil since then. “We’ve never tried to be the biggest guy on the block. We make a decent living. My grandfather, starting with him, was very frugal. You don’t go buy something unless you have the money to buy it. We’ve never really gotten ourselves into debt.” Minnix credits that “cash-only” philosophy with fueling their survival through decades of booms and busts.
“Right now, I would call us a boutique-type trucking company. We cater to the oil field—pipe hauling, mainly—and we are pretty selective on what companies we want to work for.” Those customers include pipe manufacturers—he said three companies, all foreign, dominate the pipe market. China, Japan, and Argentina are those companies’ homes. McClatchy Bros also works for producers, majors, and small independents alike.
As long as the pipes are calling, along with other oilfield hauling, and as long as there are drivers, McClatchy Brothers will be needed in the oil patch.
Paul Wiseman is a freelance energy writer. His email address is email@example.com.