By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The elevated cost of diesel fuel has left a Havre family strugging.
Doug Warp, who has been an independent trucker for 14 years, said spiked fuel prices have nearly put him out of business. Unlike truckers who work for large fleets, Warp is responsible for maintaining his own truck and purchasing his own fuel.
When the price of diesel jumped 70 cents a gallon in the first part of March, Warp was barely able to continue to operate, he said.
"When your truck uses 750 to 800 gallons a week, that adds up pretty quick," he said. "And all of that is coming out of my pocket."
When fuel was $1.25 a gallon, Warp was able to make a living, he said. But when diesel prices peaked at $1.90 a gallon across the Northwest, independent truckers began to bleed money, he said. Making long hauls at five miles to the gallon is not economical when that gallon costs $2, he added.
"When diesel was a $1.90 a gallon, it was time to bail out fast," he said. "The trouble you have is that when the industry is so bad, no one wants to buy your truck. You're stuck with a huge loan and no income. What do you do?"
The cost of diesel has since dropped, and was about $1.62 a gallon in Montana on Wednesday.
The price drop has kept Warp in business - for the moment.
"The whole deal with trucking is that you're working day and night just to stay afloat," he said. "If the price increases again, I'll have to get out."
Warp, who hauls refrigerated goods between Seattle and Minneapolis, said his income was cut in half by the rising fuel costs.
While high fuel prices affect the entire industry, independent truckers are hurt the worst, Warp said.
"The larger fleets have the advantage of being able to buy things in bulk," he said. "Trucks, brakes, tires, insurance, fuel. They can offer rates that guys like me can't beat. There's just no way to compete."
The trucker said he expects prices to drop, but doubts if they will ever return to previous lows.
He said he is not sure what he will do if he is forced out of the trucking industry. He said he would welcome the opportunity to spend more time with his family, which he sees only several days a month.
Making a living is another matter, Warp said. The fear of losing his job and having an outstanding loan on his truck is a real possibility, he added.
"You might owe $100,000 for the truck, but no one is going to buy it for that," he said. "It would be tough to raise a family and pay off $100,000 loan working at McDonald's."
While Warp is on the road, his wife, Jane, stays busy taking care of the couple's three young children, and helping her husband with bookkeeping and taxes.
"We'll see what happens," she said. "At this point we're not really sure what to do."