Jerry Diehl Jr. still plays with trucks — they’re just a lot bigger now.
The little kid making truck noises and pushing diecast, scale model tractor-trailers across the living room floor near Hatfield, PA, is now a well-spoken, entrepreneur using big rigs to pull construction equipment across real roads.
“If it’s big and ugly, we’ll haul it,” said Diehl Jr., co-founder of Slater & Diehl Equipment Transport Inc. of Quakertown, PA.
The young company does most of its work in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia, though it has ventured as far as Chicago, Florida, and Massachusetts.
The company recently delivered a Caterpillar D8 tractor and 14H grader, a Grove RT760 truck crane and a Volvo A30 artic truck to the Lyman’s Run Dam project in Potter County, PA.
The Case STX450 tractor and 18-yd. (16.5 m) pull pan that Diehl delivered in one load for Bath, PA-based Muschlitz Excavating is a particular source of pride. Those units usually travel separately.
And for the record, size matters.
Just ask anyone who has tried pulling giant, modern equipment through horse-and-buggy towns. “You’re driving on sidewalks and whatever else to get around corners. You’re pulling loads of 115,000 pounds. It tests your skills.”
Diehl Jr.’s ambitious leap into the business world is no surprise. “I’ve always been a ball of fire,” he said. “Nothing is ever good enough. I always go for more.”
Diehl Jr. graduated from North Montco Technical Career Center in Lansdale, PA, in 1984 and went immediately to work with Kulpsville, PA-based equipment hauler A.G. Allebach. He stayed there for 20 years.
Although he never took a college business course, he could probably teach one.
“I had no schooling in business. I’m a field guy,” he said. “It’s honesty and common sense. We only promise what we can do, and we do what we promise. You never tell them something you can’t deliver. If that machine isn’t there when they need it, it’s a bad thing.”
Diehl Jr., who still has his toy trucks in a glass case at home, started the company in April 2004 with a totally rebuilt 1988, tri-axle, low-boy Peterbilt, and a 60-ton (54.4 t) Talbert, drop-side, four-axle trailer.
Since then he’s added two more Peterbilts, a Dorsey flatbed trailer, another Talbert, a two-axle, 10,000-lb. (4,536 kg) trailer for hauling skid steers, and a 35-ton (31.7 t) Etnyre trailer specially designed to haul pavers.
On the horizon is a 75-ton (68 t), 10-axle trailer for carrying behemoths such as the Cat 385 excavator.
In April, Diehl Jr. bought-out business partner Scott Slater’s half of the company. Slater also owns a successful crushing business — Mobile Aggregate Recycling Service (MARS) of Effort, PA. In a tribute to common sense, Diehl Jr. kept the original company name and spared the firm the cost of redesigning everything from letterhead to mud flaps.
New Department of Transportation regulations limiting drivers to 60 hours per week and restricting hauling of oversize loads near big cities during busy drive times helped business.
“If you get into a red zone [an area subject to the new load regulations] during those hours you have to pull over. That pushes up demand,” he said.
Alan A. Myers Construction Company, Haines and Kibblehouse, and Glenn A. Hawbaker Construction have all done business with Slater & Diehl. “We haul for little guys who need smaller tools too,” Diehl Jr. said.
The company is now bonded through Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation to order its own permits.
It’s a costly and demanding business, Diehl Jr. said. Fuel costs average $16,000 to $20,000 per month — and that was prior to Hurricane Katrina and the promise of even higher prices at the pump. “We’re not happy about it … but most of our customers understand,” he said.
Like a big load going uphill, company growth will be slow and steady, Diehl Jr. said. “I’m not putting limitations on anything. I want to be able to do it all,” he said.
“But I don’t want to get too big too fast and get in trouble. We’re in this forever.”