HEFLIN — Greg Brown, chairman and CEO of BR Williams Trucking, said Wednesday that by the middle of last week, everything had changed for the Oxford-based trucking business.
Brown said that some of his manufacturing customers have shut down altogether as the virus causing COVID-19 spreads across the world and upends the economy, while others have had an increased need for moving goods. His drivers, meanwhile, who roam as far as the West Coast, are facing challenges they’ve never seen before.
“They are going in and through areas that are mandatory quarantines. Being able to buy fuel, being able to stop and rest, being able to get food on the road — you can only imagine how challenging it is for drivers now under the circumstances,” Brown said in a Wednesday phone interview.
For the 1.75 million truck drivers — according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — who move the nation’s commercial and industrial goods, working from home isn’t an option. And on the road, they are meeting with some of the same changes to daily life many Americans are encountering.
At the Circle K truck stop in Heflin, exit 205 on Interstate 20, the lunchtime crowd of drivers filed in Wednesday to the aroma of fried chicken, gizzards, livers and wings. It was not a time to sit and relax, however — employees made plate lunches for the truckers to take elsewhere to consume.
Tonya Holcombe, manager at the Circle K, said she closed the seating area in the store and has put up signs banning personal cups from being brought inside. Still, she said, business was going great at the truck stop, which is open 24 hours a day. Holcombe characterized the mood of the truckers she sees as optimistic.
“I think everybody just tries to just keep on going on with their lives and not let it bother them and get to them,” Holcombe said.
There are some bright spots for truckers.
Leo Tavet of Lawtey, Fla., was filling up a 320-gallon tank on his tractor-trailer truck in one of the diesel fuel lanes, where the diesel price was $2.29 per gallon. He said the price of fuel is coming down.
“It doesn't usually do that but it has lately,” Tavet said with a smile.
Tavet said he hauls large spools of steel on his flatbed truck from U.S. Steel in Birmingham to Jacksonville, Fla. He said the biggest thing he’s noticed during the COVID-19 crisis is the lack of traffic on the highways and byways.
“In Atlanta, you can go around the loop, I-285, and all that, there’s hardly no traffic. Usually you get backed up 30 miles before you get there. I drove all the way to downtown Atlanta this morning and never hit the brakes,” said Tavet.
Brown said that BR Williams has two fleets, one in Oxford and one in Eastaboga, with 155 tractors and 640 trailers which haul parts and other goods. He said the obstacles facing drivers are an opportunity to support the needs of the nation in a difficult time.
“Our people are loyal and committed to our country’s needs right now and are responding in a very positive way,” said Brown.