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Owner-operator Discovers the Lucrative Niche of Hauling Containers in Chicago

The Journey of an Experienced Owner-Operator

I had the pleasure of meeting Carlos Alizondo, a seasoned owner-operator based in Chicago, at the Mid America Trucking Show last spring. With over 30 years of trucking experience, Alizondo has seen it all. He has ventured into various types of trucking, including providing logistical support in Iraq during the second Iraq War and hauling flatbeds and reefers across the United States.

But what surprised me was his response when asked about the best food in Chicago: “Home.” Despite his vast experience and travels, Alizondo has found his trucking career coming full circle. He now believes that hauling containers from Chicago is the way to go. Not only does it offer comparable earnings to over-the-road (OTR) hauling, but it also allows him to spend more time at home. Alizondo loves pulling containers from several container ports in Illinois, such as Harvey, Bensenville, Schiller Park, and Elwood. These ports have witnessed significant expansions.

Carlos Alizondo

Alizondo operates a meticulously maintained 1998 Pete truck, equipped with a powerful engine and a personalized turbo intake. He has owned this truck since it was brand-new, and it remains his trusted companion on the road. As a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Alizondo has noticed a significant improvement in the container scene in Chicago since the 1980s.

The Evolution of Container Hauling

He reminisced about the early days when truckers like his father had to deal with abysmal rates and antiquated trucks. They worked with outdated vehicles like Whites and old White Freightliners, which were barely functional. However, things have changed for the better. Alizondo and I shared stories of our own experiences pulling containers out of Chicago. I vividly remember earning a mere 21 cents per mile. But for Alizondo, it was reassuring to know that the container market had improved since those days, despite recent downturns in other regions.

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Carlos Alizondo

Alizondo had been working with Michael’s Cartage for an impressive ten years before it was bought out by Universal in 2019. Having personally experienced a buyout myself, I could relate to the challenges that come with such transitions. However, Alizondo had a positive outlook. Universal turned out to be a great company to work with, providing essential amenities such as parking, fueling, maintenance, and even their own chassis. They also offered competitive compensation, including layovers and a generous fuel surcharge. Alizondo had no complaints about his current situation.

Carlos Alizondo

Embracing the Ease of Container Hauling Today

Alizondo shared an anecdote about a recent trip to Iowa, which was a great run for him. Thanks to electronic logs, he had the opportunity to spend the night in Waterloo, and the compensation was substantial enough to cover two days’ worth of work. He expressed his satisfaction with the ease and reliability of container hauling, emphasizing that it is an easy gig with significant benefits. Alizondo opined that many drivers today don’t fully appreciate the favorable conditions they enjoy. He vividly recalled the days before precise location information was readily available. Back then, truckers would receive only a container number and a rail yard without any further directions. They had to search for the containers themselves, often encountering challenging road conditions and uncooperative mobile repair units. Today, the process is more streamlined and efficient, with paved locations and concrete yards. Alizondo concluded that the container market, including the rail equipment, has improved significantly.

The Benefits of Staying in the Container Niche

While Alizondo admitted that the container market had slowed down recently, he still managed to stay busy. Although he doesn’t receive as many runs to Iowa as before, he has no immediate plans to switch back to over-the-road hauling. Alizondo shared that many drivers who quit container hauling return to it after finding that the expenses and time away from home in OTR don’t match up to the earnings. He emphasized the importance of finding a niche that aligns with the local demand. Luckily for him, container hauling has gained popularity, offering favorable compensation and attracting more drivers.

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In conclusion, Alizondo has found fulfillment and financial stability in the container hauling niche over the past fifteen years. It is a testament to his dedication and expertise as a trucker.

This article is part of Long Haul Paul Marhoefer’s “Faces of the Road” series, capturing profiles and oral histories of trucking professionals.

[Related: Intermodal haulers fight off ‘system collapse’ at ports]

[Related: State of freight: Analysts’ forecasts pessimistic on big 2023 trucking gains]

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