During this week’s episode of the Oakley Podcast, host Jeremy Kellett joins Charlie Johnson, boat captain for Oakley Trucking, in the wheelhouse to discuss shipping logistics, what it’s like being a boat captain, and how the operation supports Bruce Oakley Incorporated.
Key topics in today’s conversation include:
- Oakley Update: A special thank you and the need for pneumatic drivers (3:32)
- Charlie’s background and what got him interesting in career on a boat (5:25)
- The training and requirements to be a boat captain (7:37)
- Rules, regulations, and security on the boat (11:58)
- Stories of tricky situations on the water (15:15)
- The crew on board and their responsibilities (21:33)
- Charlie’s family and his hobbies when he’s on land (26:17)
Oakley Trucking is a family-owned and operated trucking company headquartered in North Little Rock, Arkansas. For more information, check out our show website: podcast.bruceoakley.com.
Charlie Johnson 00:12
It gets really quick on the Arkansas River and really fast. You get into Mississippi is more like a superhighway after the more water you got more ways you can go You’re restricted it pretty much stays in this channel. It just gets really fast and really high. Not how fast you can go. It’s how fast you can stop.
Jeremy Kellett 00:30
Welcome to the Oakley podcast, trucking, business and family. This show is brought to you by Oakley trucking headquartered in North Little Rock, Arkansas. The purpose of this podcast is to communicate with Oakley owner operators and their families by giving them up to date information concerning Oakley trucking and the trucking industry. From business advice to safety updates to success stories. Also to give an insight to outside truck drivers that might be interested in joining the Oakley family.
Hi, this Jeremy Kellett director recruiting here at Oakley trucking. I’m your host for this podcast. This is the Oakley podcast trucking business and family and this is episode 132 Got a little special episode for you today. You know everybody’s kind of been talking about one to hear and know different things about Bruce Oakley incorporated so we actually got with a boat captain and me and Myles got the equipment went out to the boat they docked here to North Little Rock yard and and we went out there and did it in the wheelhouse. Great episode, Charlie Johnson I really can’t say enough about him. I appreciate him doing it for us. And sitting down with us taking the time to do it. It was very interesting miles got some really good video and pictures of the whole boat you know, the engine room and all the technology that you used and I mean just a good episode of what it’s like to be a boat captain. So good episode coming up. We’ll get right to it. But first let’s take a quick break and listen to our sponsor Arrow Truck Sales.
Let’s listen to one of Oakleys owner operator experience with Arrow Truck Sales: Called Kenworth offer 440. Called Peterbilt call Freightliner. None of them wanted to work with me. So Jeremy kellett got me and got me over to Trey. Trey visor, me and him had a conversation. He’d sent me to Keith Wilson and never looked back from that point. I was upside down 29,000 and change. They paid off all but $5,000 of my loans on a blown truck. That right there said a lot to me. You know they’re you were willing to step outside of their comfort zone to get my deal done. I’ve never felt like a customer. Yeah, it was more like a family feeling. He took care of every every aspect of the deal. He was completely transparent. There was no hidden, no hidden nothing. So if you’re in the market for a used truck, you owe it to yourself to call Keith Wilson at Arrow Truck Sales in Springfield, Missouri. Tell him you heard it on the Oakley podcast.
Jeremy Kellett 03:19
So one quick update real quick on Mike got two little things. One is congratulations to Joe Sims, or just a thank you to Joe Sims. We had a customer BASF reached out to us. And they wanted to be sure and late they sent us a neighbor email and wanted to let us know. Or actually Jody said please let Oakley know that third driver Joe that brought today’s load was very knowledgeable and did a great job in assisting. I feel like today was a great learning experience. And that’s because people like Joe Sims takes care of our customers. And the next email was, “hey, Bradley, how can we get Joe once a week.” So you know, that’s the way it is you get good service and they want you back. So thanks, Joe Sims for doing that. The other quick thing is, we really need some guys to swap to pneumatic tanks. So if you’ve been thinking about swapping the pneumatic tanks, now’s the time to do it was it’s really busy on the pneumatic side. And I know there’s a lot of details that go into that, that we’ll get into if you want to call a recruiter or call a pneumatic dispatcher and talk to them but swap into the swap and division to something you have that option here at Oakley Trucking, thank goodness. It’s good to get to swap divisions. You never lose your tenure that you’ve been here. Nothing changes. I mean, but the pneumatic is where I mean that’s that’s the top day here at Oakley is the pneumatic division. So, if you got questions about swapping call recruiting department call the Yeah, I just call, you know, a lot of times the pneumatic division, you can get some details on what’s going on there and what they’re exactly they’re looking for. So alright, let’s get started with Charlie Johnson hips. So 132
Charlie Johnson 05:18
Where are you from, Charlie. Northeast Arkansas. So a little town called Maynard read up on Missouri. Actually I’m the mayor of Pittman is me and the dog and the dog didn’t want the job.
Jeremy Kellett 05:32
If you ever heard of a town called beggars do cross river right down the river. That’s where I was born. Raised.
Charlie Johnson 05:41
Born raised on Kerner you know our current view?
Jeremy Kellett 05:44
Mine Yeah, Red Cross River. No kidding. Yeah, I went school. Biggers Reno. That’s where I graduated high school. I went Minor and that Minor Tiger.
Charlie Johnson 05:54
I’ll be doing you saved throughout a ferry to get across to you.
Jeremy Kellett 05:58
I don’t remember that.
Charlie Johnson 05:58
Do you remember the ferry ran over?
Jeremy Kellett 06:01
Now? They’re the 308 bridge. Or 2328 bridge? Yeah. I’ll be dying. I didn’t know he’s mitered. You know, there was a bunch of guys up there that worked on a boat. Did you know Spike? Spike? I can’t believe I can’t. Spike Jones.
Charlie Johnson 06:27
Jeremy Kellett 06:27
He was on boats for years and years. He were he worked it and he still lives there. Beggars but I’d be dying. Yes. Oh go bro. Yeah, I don’t know. They used to have a big circle in that part of the world did that. Yeah, there was quite a few guys there. wasn’t gonna dig up there. So my inner darkness. Oh, he’s born right there live for pretty much pretty much so how did you get to be a bobcat
Charlie Johnson 06:54
though? Oh, just bad luck again. My brother was doing it and he talked me into it though. Wanted whooping at first.
Jeremy Kellett 07:06
He left yet so how long have you been here? About 20 years. Jan Tran Yeah, so for everybody don’t know Jan Tran is a company owned by Bruce Oakley incorporated and it consists of I don’t even me boats is or Charlie owning we’ve
Charlie Johnson 07:23
got about 15 line boats like now we got three runs lowered and all these fleets all up and down. Dennis got stiff in Muskogee and the port 33 And down in Louisiana and right he’s got a pretty good handle on yeah flags on Arkansas River
Jeremy Kellett 07:41
Was it hard getting trained or lastly I only know what you have to be a boat captain?
Charlie Johnson 07:49
Well,l you get to be on a boat for about a year and a half before he never start its own onboard damn not your day though. For you can ever start training then you you go through a make steersman program that lasts for another year and then you got to that’s being evaluated before you can step up to a pilot’s license you have to do that for another year. Before you can get onto a master’s license and you have to go through various things all in all stages you have to do CPR first aid you have five firefighting you have to document and prove that you can read with a proven person that make sure you can make all these bridges capable of handling the boat in different types whether those water.
Jeremy Kellett 08:42
You got to put the time in to be a captain I guess you got you said the masters.
Charlie Johnson 08:50
Isn’t it takes you about five years to get a master’s degree or measures less nice and that’s when you start learning stuff.
Jeremy Kellett 08:59
That’s when you start really learning when you get up here and figuring out how to drive this thing.
Charlie Johnson 09:06
You pretty much got oversee over the you we’ve got engineers to take care of the engine stupid you’re responsible for their stuff and you got a man crew he pretty much got direct om you order groceries order supplies. We’re taking on water now where there’s only so many places you can get it only so many places you can get fuel, so we got to make sure we’re able to keep on going how much fuel you carry on this boat. 50,000 gallons on this boat. Wow. How long will that last year? Well, rule of thumb is a gallon per horsepower for 24 hours if you’re hooked up, pushing ahead, head on. So we’re for file number sparer. It alleged this couple of weeks.
Jeremy Kellett 09:55
No kidding. And I guess I mean this thing it’s a massive bow And I guess it’s gotta have power. And how many barges? Are you typically pushing?
Charlie Johnson 10:06
Arkansas River 15 barges would because of the lockage situation, a more net you’re spending too much. You have to triple up we have to we can only put 600 foot through. So we put three kids through in warning, come back, take the boat to market. barges are to typically do on our food alone.
Jeremy Kellett 10:30
So that means I know I don’t I’m not versed on the terminology. So that means you got to drop a couple of them off.
Charlie Johnson 10:39
And break them in half will be three word five loan if we get kicked out.
Jeremy Kellett 10:45
Yeah, so the whole thing gang fit in.
Charlie Johnson 10:49
No, we have the support, they will show into a lock break it apart. Back to second kit at. They’ll close the gates and they’ll lift the lock, lift the water up to whatever the next water level is a bit Dardanelle curve, couple of biggest ones. It’s nearly a 50 foot lift. And then we pull them out. Come in with our kit. They lift us up, put it all back together and drive on up the river.
Jeremy Kellett 11:18
So you’re out here for you told me 28 days ahead of time. Yes, sir. And then you’re off how long? 14-14 or 28 on? And you’ve been doing that for over 20 years.
Charlie Johnson 11:30
Yeah, some people do it. Day for day 28 and 28. And I got you this boat is 24 days.
Jeremy Kellett 11:39
You know this, these boats have always amazed me I can’t believe I’ve been here as long as I have and I’ve never been on one. So it’s pretty neat being up here. And on top of this thing and you got coming up here as first time I’ve ever been on a boat, which you know, I should have been on one long time ago just to check it out. But you got some pretty good security down there. miles were coming on here and they checking us out for we get on what kind of rules you got?
Charlie Johnson 12:02
It is secure, you have to have a card, transportation workers identification guard, you have to be if you don’t have one to go in is considered a secure location secure facility. So if you don’t have one, you can come on board as long as you’re escorted by someone. We have sign in everyone that’s non personnel. And Oklahoma City bomb was just a little fertilizer and in a little diesel in the back of a pickup truck. We got 50,000 gallons of diesel and 1400 tons per barge if we’re pushing fertilizers, so it needs to be secured in it. They Yeah, they’re pretty particular.
Jeremy Kellett 12:51
Who is it who’s regulated?
Charlie Johnson 12:54
Coast Guard, transportation, Homeland Security, we all fall under that heading.
Jeremy Kellett 13:01
You gotta pass inspections every so often.
Charlie Johnson 13:03
Yes, we’re an inspected vehicle or vessel. We’ve got to be inspected every five years. And we have internal audits several times throughout the years leading up to that, you know, and we can be boarded at any time and make sure we’re up.
Jeremy Kellett 13:21
Do you have to have like, I’m thinking like truck drivers and stuff. But do you have to have a physical or any health meet certain health?
Charlie Johnson 13:28
No, you guys have to pass it. If a hailstorm cold in whenever whenever you’re the longest is at least over five years. And if you’ve got any health problems, they’ll begin more often than that.
Jeremy Kellett 13:41
Yeah, so it’s kind of like truck drivers. I get it two years maximum. And if they’re not if they got health problems, it’s you know, a little bit less every year, month or something like that.
Charlie Johnson 13:52
We got about 15 pages that we’ve got to go through a roof five years to get recertified.
Jeremy Kellett 13:58
Can you keep it up to date then?
Charlie Johnson 14:02
Yeah, that’s what’s getting a lot of though a lot of the old pilots because sitting in this perch is probably the worst thing you can do for your health.
Jeremy Kellett 14:11
Yeah, similar to office employees and truck drivers. We all fight that. I think a lot of times Charlie, so it ain’t easy to stay healthy for sure. I bet 28 days on this thing. You have to be creative.
Charlie Johnson 14:24
You have to sit right here we will see everything you know. We’re command everything pretty much from right here but we still have to do a walk around my career things up spec.
Jeremy Kellett 14:35
You spend the majority of your day right up here.
Charlie Johnson 14:40
Yes. I do have to walk around and inspect everything. there to check off all night low wear and tear of everything I have to inspect the face waters have to expect the steering gears or engines
Jeremy Kellett 14:52
Are you regulated on how many hours you can drive?
Charlie Johnson 14:55
The maximum can be 18 hours and then you have to have at least 12 hours sleep. Or sleep better that really 12 hours a day is supposed to be where you’re at.
Jeremy Kellett 15:05
So you have to log that or something.
Charlie Johnson 15:09
Yes, every six hours we logged it. This is legal, and the record goes into the coastguard into their permanent record we got to keep onboard for at least three years.
Jeremy Kellett 15:20
So tell me about some of the tricky situations you may end up pushing these barges, had any issues in the water?
Charlie Johnson 15:28
It gets really quick in the Arkansas River really fast you know, you get into Mississippi is more like a superhighway out there the more water you got more places you can go to this you’re restricted it pretty much stays in this channel. It just gets really fast and really had gotta make sure that you can not how fast you can go it’s how fast you can stop.
Jeremy Kellett 15:52
How I say can you meet other barges at the same time here on Arkansas?
Charlie Johnson 15:57
You have to pick your spots not everywhere. There’s a lot of places you can there’s a lot of dam bound traffic has read away so if someone’s coming down you can’t meet them or they don’t feel comfortable meeting you at five waiting spot that come by. And then proceed to go and if you’re the day on bail manage your obligation to tell the bail man where to go to get and be in a safe place.
Jeremy Kellett 16:23
So you learn this route these rivers pretty good, don’t you?
Charlie Johnson 16:27
They change all the time. But yeah, you pretty much know ever signpost and then river.
Jeremy Kellett 16:34
What all do you travel Charlie?
Charlie Johnson 16:35
What rivers pretty much lower Mississippi mainly. Right here on Arkansas River we’d go mainly from Rosedale, Mississippi on the Mississippi at the White River. All the way up Stillson and we get on the bergerie River and go to KATUSA reporter dosa that’s hidden navigation on the Arkansas River. It’s actually it could have read below Pendleton you go through the Arkansas post canal and they have actually dug a channel to the White River and then we go down the White River for 10 Miles makes it into the Mississippi
Jeremy Kellett 17:20
This low low water stuff messing you up here lately?
Charlie Johnson 17:24
Oh yeah, places on the Mississippi. It’s always low here in Arkansas so we’re kind of used to it but Mississippi love places were when I was there last week where I normally drive a tancet to drew over the top of was over the top of my wheelhouse and we’re 50 foot high right here. So sandbars were I used to drive over the top it was over so yeah, it’s they were that high. Yeah. Really. Mississippi is pretty low. It’s smaller than the White River then Arkansas River is in a lot of places right now.
Jeremy Kellett 18:00
So when you say 10 foot toe you mean 10 foot deep and foot drift?
Charlie Johnson 18:06
You can go up 14 on Mississippi. Arkansas, the only guarantee nine foot Corps of Engineers will usually run button a knife and advocate to mount an effort.
Jeremy Kellett 18:19
I’m assuming you always know what you’re towing, what product?
Charlie Johnson 18:25
We always list what we’ve got we have to report it to every lock we go through what is what’s going through MSDS sheets. We’ve got to keep them on board. So he a thing that somebody might come in contact with we know what to do with the boards and control center or whether it’s marine or steel, etc.
Jeremy Kellett 18:45
Where you think all the bass boats that are on a river?
Charlie Johnson 18:50
Just because you can afford one doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be driving one.
Jeremy Kellett 18:55
That’s a truth!
Charlie Johnson 18:58
I get you get some EMTs in are sticking 20 foot out of the water 25 foot and you get a somebody cuts in front of you that’s it’s a quarter mile in front of you. They disappeared you don’t see them anymore so let’s I can track them on my radar or say if somebody’s watching if they were to break down I’ve gotten away to know it you know we would know if you just ran over it. It takes a minute to stop oh is that it does.
Jeremy Kellett 19:28
This is massive horsepower you getting this thing and controls I was looking at your all your control board and everything, is that is that all does radar in sonar?
Charlie Johnson 19:39
We’ve got radar I’ve got a swing meter digital compass to swing me here.
Jeremy Kellett 19:48
Charlie, what is a swing meter?
Charlie Johnson 19:49
It just shows you what you’re sitting out here looking you can’t necessarily tell him where you’re going to tell you what degree the boat is actually swinging. There’s no luck we’ve got a highway or you otherwise, right, you’re in the middle of a bunch of water, you know. So it tends to let you know that you’re turning in one direction that the boat is actually moving in that direction. All of our steerage back here in the back, and overloads up front. So, yeah, 100 foot behind where you’re sitting is where we’re steering and we’re steering steel a quarter mile in front of us.
Jeremy Kellett 20:22
I’ve always wondered how in the world you can turn that stuff? You know, it looks to me like it would take a while.
Charlie Johnson 20:29
It is you what you’re planning, and an autopilot. When you start, you figure what you’re wanting to do. Five minutes from now and that’s where you need to start reading it.
Jeremy Kellett 20:42
Yeah, because I can just imagine I was picking on you when I was saying about bass boats because I dropped bass boat up bass fisherman, but it just those little boats, you got to, you know, when he pulled up to a dock, you got to, you know, be know what you’re doing. And I can just imagine a boat like this and pushing a bunch of barges. Getting it in the exact spots you need to
Charlie Johnson 21:06
You’re a lot more maneuverable in the back bay as smooth as you can imagine. That’s the saving grace here. Right? I grew up on Current River so we really had to navigate. We used to run till the gas tank run out, you know, we didn’t unplug and, and I think about it every time I see somebody disappeared from me with a gas when they’re right here in front of me.
Jeremy Kellett 21:28
Yep. Because you’ve done that. But you’ve run out of gas before on a river right?
Charlie Johnson 21:32
We didn’t swap tanks. Do we run it again?
Jeremy Kellett 21:35
That’s exactly right. That’s awesome. Yeah. So let’s talk about your crew a little bit. And what these guys how many you got on here kind of what their jobs are. What all they take care of, Charlie?
Charlie Johnson 21:50
We run an eight man crew. I’ve got a relief captain that replaces me we work six hour shifts. So five to 11 is usually a shift and then you go to bed for six hours and you’re up for the other the back watch takes 11. It’s kind of rough on everybody for sleep schedules but you get used to and run eight man crew. I’ve got relief Captain, I’ve got a pilot we can all rotate out. I have an engineer that takes care of my engines cool stuff keeps us afloat and keeps everything running and then we have to mandate crews on either watch in a call man that we get up whenever we need him is not necessarily up all the time but when we come due to work when we have to make a lock we need extra help he has no regular schedule at all. So it’s like say don’t call so whenever you need him you get him up sometimes he gives love sleep sometimes he doesn’t get very much at all.
Jeremy Kellett 22:52
Your crew here they’ve been with you a while?
Charlie Johnson 22:56
Well, I think like everything is it’s hard to keep hands people move on to better stuff and better jobs and advance and some have been here for a while but everybody wants to progress you can tell a man makes me there’s something better for you if they find something.
Jeremy Kellett 23:15
You count on those guys a lot though I bet you doing their job so it’s some may just lucky nice to see.
Charlie Johnson 23:23
The matrix the deck crew pretty much kind of like a sergeant you know he kind of keeps everything everybody lined up. But in barges together breaking the toe abort the works under your supervision as much your Lieutenant if you would and then whatever your level of experience is after that. Then there’s four stages a deck and then you get to be a lead man and then second mate and then make our really okay, so it’s veins on how long you’ve been at it and what your experience level is. And you went through all that. Everybody has to everybody has to get to get here in the end, right.
Jeremy Kellett 24:06
So you live in on his boat for 28 days, they get crowded?
Charlie Johnson 24:11
Well, everybody’s we have everybody pretty much has their own room where one guy gets up and goes work. There’s another guy goes in and sleeping in the same bunk room so they’re not their same to go watch room. Everybody’s pretty much got your own room but split it but not sleeping together. You know, but this is a 24 hour operation. It never says never stops. Only when you have take on supplies, do tow work pickups, etc.
Jeremy Kellett 24:43
And so lockout right now you’re stopping you’re getting water here at the terminal. Can those guys leave or they got to stay with the boat, don’t they?
Charlie Johnson 24:52
They pretty much stay with the boat since we’ll get topped off here. We’re headed on down stream we’ve been doing tow work we drew up five I barges and picked up to rearrange our toes so that we can fit into the lump and travel efficiently down river. So we’ll only be here for an hour or so and then we’re on our way we’re hooked up to two empties right now hooked up to four loads and four empties at moment I came in here with 12 I’m leaving with a we’re not you had about a mile down or you see if you look like this.
Jeremy Kellett 25:31
Yours is already down there ready to go. You just get right to it.
Charlie Johnson 25:36
We just come up here and take on supplies, take on water set off trade. There’s only so many places you can take on water, take on fuel or set off trays got a plan he stops as it and winter’s coming on everything getting ready froze up so you don’t want to pass up water. At the moment, we’ve only got one place we can take on few we can’t get into the port. We have been a which hasn’t been able getting fuel up here and the more you get fuel at Van Buren was last place we got it. Well, that does take some planning done it. You everything takes some planning. You run out you can’t just run the Walmart is your days or weeks away from getting your next leg.
Jeremy Kellett 26:22
So you’ve been doing it 20 years you enjoy it?
Charlie Johnson 26:26
I’m too old do anything else.
Jeremy Kellett 26:29
Oh, come on. Was this good? Listen, what was the hardest thing to get used to living on a boat Charlie being going along the sleep schedule?
Charlie Johnson 26:38
You know, everybody’s you’re up at 4:30 in the morning when you’re home because at your normal time you want to take a nap in the afternoon that’s when everybody else gets to wonder Why are you sleeping in the middle of the day? Here in the wheelhouse, learning to sit still because everything you control is sitting right here you can’t really take off and leave it you have to monitor everything fooled.
Jeremy Kellett 27:04
Yeah, family at home?
Charlie Johnson 27:05
Oh yes. I have three daughters and I’m and up to seven granddaughters now. And one of them just had a birthday yesterday. Happy birthday! Throw a plug in there for her.
Jeremy Kellett 27:28
Well, what do you do when you’re not on the boat?
Charlie Johnson 27:30
I’ve got some registered Angus cattle if you need a booth and get to know get to know it’s kind of my retirement plan. Mainly I’m a personal plaything for them granddaughters.
Charlie Johnson 27:47
Now I know why you had kids when you were young you can’t keep up with them.
Jeremy Kellett 27:52
We had one of one of our guests on and what he called his truck miles it was the because he did an ice cream roll as soon as ice cream soon as he got home he did ice cream run they’d all get in his truck and go up to ice cream store. Get a bunch of ice cream and I can’t remember what he called it but I think it was fun.
Charlie Johnson 28:10
Ice creamer and splash stores the candy store can we go to the candy store, Papa?
Jeremy Kellett 28:17
Well, good stuff, Charlie. Ah, you know we kind of threw this together real quick out here and in your office and I really appreciate you letting us up here. You know I don’t I wouldn’t quite prepared on what to ask you. So just kind of been shooting from the hip on that stuff. But man you given us some good info.
Charlie Johnson 28:36
You are more prepared and I was kind of surprised. There’s a wheelhouse for out here. This is officially the wheel.
Jeremy Kellett 28:44
You can tell it’s it looks like you got all you need up here to make these big decisions on driving this thing. That’s big responsibility.
Charlie Johnson 28:55
Last thing you want to do is hurt anyone. You don’t get over the truck. I’m floating here.
Jeremy Kellett 29:06
You did a great job. I mean, really? That’s good information. I just feel like it’s, you know, stuff that I didn’t know for sure. And a lot of our listeners aren’t gonna know. So it’s, it’s really good that she appreciate you sitting down with us and doing it.
Charlie Johnson 29:21
You’re welcome. Sorry about your look, you didn’t find someone else.
Jeremy Kellett 29:26
Appreciate you! So what a great episode with Charlie Johnson. You know this, it was something different that we haven’t done here on the Oakley podcast. And it was really fun to get out there and check out the boat and Charlie’s office in the wheelhouse and I really thank him a lot for letting us do that. And we appreciate all our listeners. Listen to the Oakley Podcast every week. We appreciate you guys so much. Keep the keep the comments coming. Let us know what you want to hear a guy here. We’re getting questions, man. Just call us up. Once again, thanks for listening and we’ll talk to you next week.
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