Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Diesel cost forces man to consider bankruptcy

Bangor News

By George Chappell
Monday, March 24, 2008

HARMONY, Maine - A logging truck operator with a fleet of 10 registered trucks is losing his 35-year-old business as a consequence of skyrocketing diesel fuel prices.

He is not going gently, however.

Donald A. Hayden, 58, president of Donald Hayden & Son Logging Inc., plans to protest in Augusta on Friday to draw attention to diesel fuel prices that he says are driving companies out of business.

As part of his plan, he will meet banking representatives who are repossessing three of his tractors at 8 a.m. Friday at the parking lot behind the State House. Hayden, who plans to file for corporate bankruptcy, will be joined in the protest by logging truck operators from the Coalition to Lower Fuel Prices in Maine and the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine.

"They wanted to pick up the tractors here in my yard," Hayden said of the bankers, "but I persuaded them to do it this way by meeting them in Augusta, and they agreed.

"When I bought those trucks in March 2006, diesel fuel was $2.60 a gallon. Now it’s over $4.15 a gallon," he said. "The price of fuel has gone so high, I just can’t keep going, making payments and buying fuel."

He buys fuel to run seven trucks using 100 gallons a truck every day. Now one truck costs him $700 a week more for fuel than two years ago.

"That’s $2,800 more for the month per truck that it’s costing me," he said.

"When you figure that per truck for the month for seven trucks, that’s paying $19,600 more than I did in 2006, and that’s only on $4 a gallon. It’s $4.15 now," he said.

"That doesn’t count the $2.60 I was paying per gallon when I bought the trucks," he said. "And you wonder why I’m paying more than I can afford.

"It’s to the point of ridiculous," Hayden said. "The price of tires has gone up another 8 percent than it was last week or the week before. Tires that we were paying $240 for are now over $400," he added. "That’s per tire."

Prices of parts have gone up because the cost of steel has almost tripled, he said.

"It’s never ending," he said. "It’s just never ending."

Hayden said he has employed seven drivers full time over the winter, including himself and his son, Travis. He recently had to lay off three of these drivers.

"We’re going to stay in business, although not as this company," Hayden said. "We are going through bankruptcy."

Hayden said he would be able to keep some of the older trucks that were his and not the corporation’s so that he could keep going on a reduced scale.

"We don’t have a choice," he said. "We’re going to go through bankruptcy and dissolve the company we have, but we’re going to use some of the old trucks. I own four or five of these old trucks out here," he said, nodding toward his yard. "I’ll keep going with those five trucks and operate under a different name.

"After more than 30 years of this, it’s hard to give up a business," he said. "But I can’t keep going the way I am. There’s no assistance from anybody. The governor isn’t helping us at all, the way the state helped the ski industry a few years ago."

He said he tried unsuccessfully for low-interest loans but was told no money had been appropriated.

"This isn’t considered a disaster, even though people are going to be put out of work and out of business," he said.

Hayden also has called three federal agencies and was told no money had been appropriated for his kind of emergency.

Truckers at rallies in Lincoln, Damariscotta and Skowhegan this winter held up their keys and promised to park their rigs because of the fuel prices. Hayden said one company recently abandoned its equipment in the woods and walked out.

"We’re all in the same boat, including the people in the woods cutting the logs," he said.

Travis Hayden, 25, represents a younger generation that is skeptical about the future of the state’s forest products industry. He plans to stay in the business despite the forecast, but he said he would not recommend it for someone wanting to enter trucking now without experience.

"I’ve been helping my dad since I was a junior in high school," he said. "If somebody my age asked me if he should buy a truck, I’d tell him no.

"The only way to make it in this business, if you do buy a truck, is knowing how to work on it," he said.

Travis said the only truck he would feel comfortable with is his 1985 Freightliner because it can be repaired without depending on computers.

On the new trucks, he can only change filters and "small stuff like that." All the rest is computerized, which he learned about when studying for his degree in diesel mechanics at Eastern Maine Technical College in Bangor.

"I’ve got the know-how, but I don’t have the tools to do it," he said.

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