A dream come true – Riding in the 18-wheeler with my son Hugh

Dolph L. Hatfield, Ph.D.

My son, Hugh, is truly a self-made man. He is one of the hardest working individuals I know and has accomplished so much. I had the honor and pleasure of spending a day with him driving in his 18-wheeler and seeing firsthand all that his day encompasses.

My son, Hugh, owned a trucking service for many years. The service transported used cars and small trucks up and down the East Coast. Since he started the business, he has always driven one of his trucks, an 18-wheeler, that carries up to nine vehicles. For years, he also owned another 18-wheeler that could transport nine vehicles and several smaller trucks that could carry between two and six vehicles. Except for the 18-wheeler that Hugh drove, all of the other trucks were driven by individuals who worked for Hugh. Hugh’s business was responsible for transporting as many as 150 vehicles each month.

Hugh’s larger trucks had “Cherryl’s Transport, LLC, Frederick Maryland” painted on the outside of the front doors. Cherryl is Hugh’s wife. They have two daughters, Amber and Logan, both of whom graduated from college with honors, and now live on their own.

When Hugh initially developed his trucking business he would buy cars at auction in one location, transport them to another location and sell them. He also owned a large repair service and he used the service to repair those vehicles in need of restoration so that they could be sold for a larger profit.

As the years passed, Hugh decided to limit his business to only moving vehicles for dealerships. He still drives his 18-wheeler but he has sold all of his other trucks. I’ve very much wanted to spend the day with Hugh so that I could see what it was like to pick up cars at one dealership and drop them at another. That dream came true on February 16, 2019.

I knew my son had worked exceptionally hard maintaining the large trucking service and also being one of the principal drivers. However, I had no idea what transportation of so many vehicles entailed until I had the pleasure of joining him on one of his runs. I met Hugh at the location where he keeps his 18-wheeler just north of Frederick, MD about 8 AM.

We drove north to Manheim, PA to load his truck with seven cars, one suburban and one truck to be delivered to four different dealerships in Hagerstown and Frederick that afternoon and to one dealership the next morning. These nine vehicles had been purchased by various dealers at the Manheim Auto Auction that is located on more than 500 acres of property. This agency is the largest auto auctioneer in the world and sells in the 1000s of vehicles/day at ongoing auctions held both online and physically. The physical auctions are held on Thursdays and Fridays with many separate auctions occurring simultaneously.

I asked Hugh how long he had been driving his 18-wheeler. He shrugged his shoulders and responded “I’m not sure. But I bought this truck with 800 miles on it”. He then looked at the mileage gauge and said “It now has almost 800 thousand miles.” To think that my son had driven this truck for nearly 800 thousand miles literally blew my mind.

We talked about some of the accidents Hugh had been in. The accidents were not his fault and each was harrowing, especially to a father who realizes his son has an incredibly hard job and has also to be alert at every moment he is driving.

When we got into Hugh’s truck, he logged into a computer with the information when he was leaving on this trip, where he was going, how long he would be idling his vehicle while loading it or unloading it with vehicles and the approximate time he would return his truck to its place of storage. Thus, I learned that every mile he drives of every trip is logged in on a computer which means each driver of 18-wheelers must adhere 100% to the demanding laws of being a driver of such a large vehicle.

Hugh’s truck’s gas tanks hold 200 gallons of gas. He gets about 4 miles/gallon when the truck is loaded with nine vehicles and about 6-7 miles/gallon when it is not loaded. He figures that overall his truck averages 5.5 miles/gallon when he makes a run and this average, of course, includes idling time when Hugh is loading and unloading vehicles.

Another important thing that I learned about Hugh’s business is that it is a major challenge to determine how to load each vehicle so that it can be unloaded in the proper order at the different dealerships who now own the auto he is transporting. This is not an easy task when the nine vehicles must be dropped at multiple auto dealers. In addition, trucks, vans, SUVs and several larger cars require more space on the trailer than smaller cars. They are also heavier and must be placed on the trailer correctly to configure the load in properly distributing the weight as well as size. All these factors are essential in the equation of loading vehicles correctly. (See Photos 1-3).

After loading, each vehicle must be securely attached to the trailer so it will not move its position the slightest when the truck is moving. This is accomplished by several chains that are latched to the trailer and the vehicle. The chains are tightened with a specific tool (see Photo 2).

Photo 1. Hugh has loaded the second car on the upper deck of the trailer.

Hugh let me fetch some of the cars to be parked close by to be driven by him onto his truck. He also let me push and pull the levers that raised and lowered the platforms on which the vehicles rested on the trailer of the truck to make room for the next vehicle. This was a big thrill to me and made me feel that I was more than a spectator— I was contributing to today’s run!

 

Photo 2. Hugh is on the lower deck and below the second loaded car to secure it tightly to the trailer.

 

Photo 3. The third car has been loaded on the upper deck of the trailer.

 

I also was absolutely amazed how quickly Hugh determined the order in which to load the vehicles and then completed loading them. As soon as the trailer was loaded, we started the trek toward Hagerstown to unload seven vehicles at three separate dealerships. (See Photos 4-7).

Photo 4. The truck is fully loaded and we’re ready to start the drive for unloading the vehicles at the various dealerships.

We stopped at the Flying J truck stop in Carlyle, PA and had lunch at Denny’s restaurant. After about 45 minutes, we again started driving towards Hagerstown. We dropped four vehicles at one dealership and then three others at another two dealerships only about a mile from the first drop off place. Again, Hugh amazed me how quickly he accomplished unloading each vehicle, leave them with the dealer and ready to move on to the next drop off.

Photo 5. Hugh and I are now set to leave for Hagerstown.

Photo 6. Hugh has already unloaded two vehicles in Hagerstown.

We then drove to Frederick and Hugh unloaded the next to last car at one of the auto dealers. He would unload the remaining car at another dealership the next morning when he began another run. We drove to the lot where Hugh keeps his truck, said our goodbyes and I departed for home.

Photo 7. Hugh unloads the third vehicle at a dealership in Hagerstown.

On my return drive to Washington, DC, I reflected on how proud I have been of Hugh and how much respect I have for him. He is one of the few people that I know who I can truly say “He is a self-made man”. As a young man, he bought a home initially in North Potomac, Maryland, sold it and he and Cherryl bought another home on eight acres of property in Frederick, Maryland where they raised their family. Hugh started his car business with Cherryl’s help and developed it into a multimillion dollar business. He did this on his own without any outside help with the exception of obtaining loans which he secured on his own with the superb credit he has.

The day that I spent with Hugh in his 18-wheeler has indeed been “a dream come true”. I’ve often wondered what all he had to accomplish in transporting these vehicles primarily up and down the East Coast in his 18-wheeler. Now I have a fairly good idea and am all that more impressed with what he has achieved.

(This story has also been published on Medium.)