Dennis Berlett had a flashback to his youth as he filled out his 18-wheeler. The truck driver had stopped Thursday morning at Love’s Truck Stop off the New York State Highway to fill up with diesel at $6.48 a gallon.
The 70-year trucking veteran from Kitchener, Ont., was going to spend more than $1,400 to fill his two 110-gallon tanks.
Any business that uses diesel to move goods, even locally, is suffering these days.
John Goerlach, owner of John’s Excavation in Lanesborough, has 45 vehicles on the road, half of which are full of diesel. He said he filled up 1,000 gallons of diesel for a fixed price totaling $6,200.
“A month and a half ago I got this same 1,000 gallons for $3,000,” he said.
Goerlach said diesel costs are felt by the people who hire his company. “An excavator costs an extra $30 an hour to operate and that cost is passed on to the customer,” he said. “It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”
AAA Northeast says diesel in Massachusetts costs an average of $6.29 a gallon, more than double from a year ago. In New York, the most recent auto club survey finds that diesel in the Empire State costs $6.38 a gallon – a record high.
“With the cost of oil being more than half the price at the pump, more expensive oil means more expensive gasoline,” said Lloyd Albert of AAA Northeast. “Prices are now above those record highs of early March.”
In Adams, Scott Grant of Scotty’s Trucking had to add a fuel surcharge to his bills. Grant operates a flatbed semi-trailer that hauls heavy construction equipment, such as loaders.
The company serves 75 to 80 regular customers. It now imposes a fuel surcharge of $32 an hour, on top of the regular transportation rate of $120 an hour.
“I haven’t lost any business because of the surcharge and no one has questioned it. I guess they pass the cost on to their customers,” he said.
Grant expects the surcharge to remain in effect for the rest of the year. He doubts the price of diesel will drop below $5.
“This morning I filled up at $6.20 and when I was done the attendant came and changed the price to $6.30,” he said.
Other Berkshire trucking companies are trying to avoid price hikes due to the price of diesel.
Kyle Delmolino, of Delmolino and Sons in Cheshire, says business is business as usual, while managers are rethinking logistics.
“We are more creative in our work. For example, if we have work in New Ashford, we try to do it in one trip,” he said.
Delmolino hauls residential and commercial waste, provides dumpsters and pumps septic systems in North Berkshire County.
“We have increased the price with our roll-offs when we go to places like Rowe or Becket because we transport our waste to Pownal [Vt.],” he said.
In Lee, Public Works Department Superintendent Al Zerbato said the spike in fuel costs was expected and he budgeted for it.
“We’ve increased our fuel costs by 20% across the board, but it’s a cost we can absorb,” Zerbato said. “The biggest cost to us is repairing our vehicles and getting parts for our trucks.”
In order to avoid paying the price of over $6 a gallon at one of Lee’s gas stations, Zerbato has 275 gallons of diesel pumped into a storage tank costing $5 a gallon.
Berlett, Canada’s trucker, says he now spends $1,000 when filling up, compared to $500 to $600 a few months ago. “I’ve never seen it this bad in my 50 years of trucking – and that includes the oil embargo of the 70s and that was due to a fuel shortage,” he said. “It’s a problem of rising prices.”
Berlett isn’t just soaking wet at the pumps, the fast food restaurants he stops at along his route have sky-high menu prices. “Last night I spent $14 on a Big Mac at McDonald’s. You can’t find a good restaurant on the toll roads anymore,” he said.
Berlett was among several truckers The Eagle spoke to on Thursday about soaring diesel prices, which are straining trucking budgets.
Things are worse in Canada, according to independent trucker Don Martin of St. Catharines, Ont. He stopped at Love’s after delivering to Schenectady NY, and picking up in Albany, NY
“We have liters that are less [in volume] than gallons at about the same price, do I fill up in Canada? No. It’s cheaper to fill up here,” he said.
Whether in Canada or the United States, the high cost of diesel forces Martin to cut other expenses.
“I will not give up on the maintenance of my cabin. I’m looking for discounts on service or parts, but I’ve cut back on personal travel,” he said.
At the Lee Plaza Rest Area on the west side of the Massachusetts Turnpike, Kentucky-based freelance trucker Tim Jessie says rising transportation costs have him considering retirement after 36 years on the road.
“I know truckers back home who parked their trucks saying it wasn’t worth it. I thought about it, but I still have to make a living,” he said.
Jessie’s fuel costs for round trips from southern Ohio to the northeast have increased from at least $1,200 to $1,800 or more. He must find ways to save. “I try not to spend like I used to when I’m on the road and I don’t let my truck idle so much to save fuel,” he says.
Titus Johnson, a freelance trucker from Chicago, stopped at Lee Plaza to get ready for his trip back to Chicago. He had stopped in Northampton to pick up a full load of Coca-Cola products.
“It used to cost me 50 to 60 cents a mile to run my truck, now it’s more than double that. Also, the rate at which I get paid for transport has gone down, so I make less money and spend more,” he said.
To save money, Johnson became his own mechanic. “I do more maintenance on my truck, I don’t take it to the shop as much,” he said.