Like Many long-haul refrigerated carriers, Brandon, South Dakota-based A&A Express is working to tame operating costs and keep drivers. As part of its efforts, the company is updating the fleet and making it more uniform.

As the mixed fleet of 87 company-owned tractors are completing their lifecycles, they are being replaced with new Kenworth T660s with 72-inch AeroCabs and the top-of-the-line Diamond VIT interior.

“With the price of fuel today, we're making sure our drivers are running aerodynamic, fuel-efficient, comfortable trucks,” says Larry Anderson, company president.

The T660s are spec'd with Cummins ISX 485 hp engines and 13-speed Eaton Fuller transmissions. There are Michelin XZA 3 tires are on the front, Bridgestone M720 tires on the rear, and aluminum wheels all around.

Soon to be a third-generation family-owned business, A&A Express specializes in nationwide refrigerated trucking, transporting mostly fresh produce, meat, and frozen foods, as well as some dry goods.

In addition to its own tractors, A&A Express uses 80 owner-operators to help pull its 160 company-owned refrigerated trailers. The fleet is standard on 53-foot Great Dane Super Seal trailers.

Half of the trailers have Carrier Transicold refrigeration units; half have Thermo King units.

The refrigerated trailers are spec'd to allow the cargo temperature to be maintained within a very narrow band, Anderson says, and to have a continuous supply of moist, cool air, to keep dehydration to a minimum.

Market change

A&A Express didn't begin as a refrigerated carrier. Rather, it evolved into it. Vince Anderson, Larry's father, started hauling livestock and grain out of Minnesota in 1945, working out of the small town of Walnut Grove.

The company was doing well and growing “until the 1980s, when the farm crunch came and killed us,” recalls Larry Anderson.

In the 1980s, farmers were devastated by a number of concurrent circumstances. The economy declined, export markets dried up, and debts piled up, forcing many farmers to liquidate their farms before having to go through foreclosure or bankruptcy.

“We hauled a lot of cattle at the time, and in our area that went away,” he says. “We needed to get into something else. A friend of ours lent us a refrigerated trailer, and we started hauling refrigerated foods.”

In 1984, Anderson moved to Brandon, South Dakota, a community located about five miles east of Sioux Falls, and started a branch operation of A&A Express doing temperature-controlled hauling. Helping him were his wife, Kathy, and a dispatcher.

Anderson's father stayed in Minnesota and continued to oversee the company's livestock and grain hauling operation.

“We left Walnut Grove because of Minnesota's excessive workman's compensation rates and high tax rates,” Anderson explains. “We chose Brandon because of its small town atmosphere and close location to Sioux Falls where you get the benefits of a larger city.

“The move to Brandon has been very good for us. We're located just off two major interstates - I-29 and I-90, plus we have a greater pool of drivers to choose from. Our town in Minnesota had a population of about 700 people, making it difficult to draw employees.”

As the Brandon operation expanded, the Minnesota operation was closed down and the company became dedicated to refrigerated transport.

Driver attentiveness

“We're fully loaded 98% of the time, so we keep our drivers busy,” says Anderson.

With the fierce competition among fleets to keep good drivers, “our philosophy is to treat drivers as best we can. Our company is family oriented, and we strive to treat our drivers like family.”

Speaking of family, Anderson's entire family works at the company. His wife is the office manager, son Tim is operations manager, daughter Tricia is the receptionist, and daughter-in-law Karen handles the accounting.

“Keeping good drivers really comes down to how well you treat them,” notes Anderson, who grew up in the family business doing a little bit of everything. “Treating drivers right includes the kind of truck you ask them to drive. We don't spec what I would call a ‘fleet truck,’ like some of the bigger fleets do.”

A&A Express has grown to more than $32 million in annual revenues. Customers include Dean Foods, John Morrell & Co, Schwan Food Company, Swift & Company, and Well's Dairy.

“The secret to our success,” Anderson says, “is doing what's right for the company, while doing what's right for the drivers.”