So you think you’re a Mover!

In college, and when we were first starting out, we moved ourselves, a U-Haul, some pizza, lots of beer and a few friends.  The smart ones (and I was never one of them) always saved the beer until the job was done.  But it all worked out, we stumbled drunkenly about and made a day for ourselves. At the end, we landed our asses with more beer on that old ratty couch and watched a game on TV, complaining about the days aches and pains and how heavy that stuff was. So that makes me a Mover, right?

NO IT DOESN’T – Moving is a real craft, and Mover is a Real Profession. My friend Dave Howard puts it best, “I’ve been doing this for 50 years, and I learn something new every day.”

In this article I am are going to focus on the various roles of the crew and the driver, most of it is geared towards an interstate move, but a great deal of it applies locally as well. We’ll start at the bottom of the experience ladder and work our way up.

Runner – This is the only part of moving where you can say “yes, I am a mover.” The runner is responsible for bringing boxes and wrapped small furniture out to the truck.  It takes a lot of energy to be a runner, and it even requires thinking. A good runner will always be asking himself basic questions like:  will that chair fit through the door; can I carry more than one box down the stairs at a time; do I need a hand truck for this piece; can I carry this piece by myself; are my feet clean before I step on this white rug; and more. These things seem to be obvious, but, when you are moving 20,000lbs of furniture you have to be AWARE.

In high school, way back when, we got an assignment in science to “write a procedure” to make a PBJ. Trust me, NOBODY actually made anything like a PBJ when it was put in practice.

Crewman – This is really two different jobs, each requiring special skills, but in practice they are usually performed by the same guys.

Packer – A quality professional packing job requires experience, skill and intelligence. It is not just throwing things in a box.  You have to pick the right box for the job. A dish pack for fragile items; small boxes for books and heavier items; medium and large boxes for non- fragile lamps and shades and linens and “stuff”, and more. Each piece of glassware or dish has to be wrapped individually, while evaluating its “tensile strength.”  An evaluation has to be made whether one or two pictures can be put in a mirror carton.  And most importantly, how does one get the most stuff into the fewest number of boxes while making sure it gets to the other side in one piece.  You the customer are cost conscious.

There is a difference between a PBO – Packed by Owner carton and a CP- Carrier Packed carton. While certainly mishaps can and do occur with a professionally packed job, there will be far fewer. Joe Passano used to say, you roll one of my Dish Packs down the stairs and nothing will break. As a note PBO boxes are NOT covered under Valuation and CP boxes are. A very straight and well defined line.

Wrapper/Padder – Properly protecting furniture for a move isn’t about throwing a pad on and moving on to the next piece. A real crewman has to look at each piece of furniture individually and plan how he is going to wrap it. If there is a non-removable glass front, a piece of cardboard has to be cut and positioned to protect the glass before putting on the pad. For cross country moves, it’s a good idea to invert the knobs on dressers before wrapping. If a chair has fragile legs, not a good idea to wrap it too tightly. Couches, loveseats and overstuffed chairs should be well padded and shrink wrapped to make sure that they stay clean (but leather has to be vented). Beds have to be taken apart, pieces individually wrapped and the parts put in an easily accessible location for reassembly on the other end, the same with table tops and legs. Glass and marble tops have to be removed from coffee and end tables, packed, wrapped or boxed and labeled so they can be put back together. A lot of things to think about while “humping 20,000lbs of furniture.” And yes, “humping furniture” is the “technical term.”

Mover – At the top of our industry are a select group of professionals, who by experience, hard work, intelligence and some “natural talent,” can proudly call themselves a Mover.

Along with having mastered all of the individual skills involved in preparing for a move, the Mover has other jobs requiring additional skills and training.

Driving – A true Mover is also the driver of the Truck that carries your belongings from point A to Point B.

Seems kind of simple doesn’t it, well it is NOT. Any one of us can get behind the wheel of a Non-CDL (Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW aka GVWR) of Less than 26,000lbs – that’s 16-17K of truck and 8-10K of furniture) and Drive. Drive by a local truck repair shop and see just how many “capped” U-Hauls or other rental trucks are in the shop at any time.

But, to operate a Commercial vehicle, a CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) is required,  which comes in two forms, the Class B, which entitles the driver to operate a Straight truck with a GVW of more than 26,000lbs; and a Class A, which is required to operate a Tractor Trailer.  Along with the license are numerous other “endorsements” which are required to move hazardous materials, drive tandems, and move people, etc.

A CDL is a required to just operate a Commercial Motor Vehicle, but there is lot more to it than that.  A CDL driver is required to inspect his vehicle daily, have knowledge of the rules and laws regarding safety and the environment, as well as the rules of the road.  A CDL Driver also is “logged,” now electronically with an ELD (electronic logging device), basically BIG BROTHER looking over his shoulder every minute of every day. And there is full reciprocity between the states on CDL licenses, so if while driving his daughter to school in his personal vehicle in Georgia, he runs a stop sign, California and Oregon know right away.

AND, don’t even get me started on the “Regen system,” now MANDATED in Diesel trucks, or that Diesel prices NEVER have come down to gasoline prices – even though it’s just “heating fuel” with a different color dye and GIGANTIC penalties if you try to sneak the Blue in place of the Pink.  Government will not be denied their tax revenue!

Manager – It’s impossible to travel all over the country with a crew in your truck, maybe one selected crewman, but not the 4 or 5 that it takes to successfully load or unload 20,000lbs. So every day, on every job, your Mover, is going to be managing a different group of men with varying degrees of experience and knowledge, varying work ethics and their interpersonal relationships, as well as their ability to interact with customers.

Along the way a professional mover will develop networks of Crewmen who he can rely upon to help him in all parts of the country, but there is no true independent source for reliable, quality, experienced labor. One of the positive features of the Van Line system is the “Origin” and “Destination” agents assigned to each shipment. While not all agents are as diligent in assigning quality people,( they may not have enough manpower) a good agency will always do its best to help a driver from their own Van Line.  But at the end of the day, a customer does not care – he/she wants their stuff loaded or unloaded as promised.

Sounds a little bit like “herding cats,” and it is. But that is the Mover’s job.

Inventory – People will often ask how do I know that all my stuff is going to get to the other end?

The answer, is that a professional Mover will prepare a written Household Goods Inventory, first applying pre-printed sequential stickers to boxes and furniture (in an inconspicuous place), and then writing up the condition of the furniture, existing scratches, stains and dings etc. to insure that the property will arrive in the same condition as it left. In moving 20,000lbs of furniture from coast to coast, there may be changes in condition, and the Mover will be held responsible. An accurate and careful inventory of 600 or more items is required on a 20,000lb move, figure 20 pages!

Loading – When I describe the loading of a household goods truck, I often compare it to a game of “Reverse Jenga,”  or for you young people “Reverse Tetris.”

Moving services are generally performed on either 26’ straight trucks, or in 53’ trailers. There are probably hundreds of variations on the sizes. As a general rule of thumb, it’s fair to say that while marked at 2100 Cubic feet a 26’ straight truck has approximately 16-1700 cubic feet of usable space and between 8-12,000lbs of capacity depending on the “bulkiness” (couches, loveseats,overstuffed chairs, etc.) of the shipment and the amount of “chowder” or as I call it “crap” on the shipment, (lawnmowers, tools, exercise equipment, ladders, etc).  Similarly, the standard 53’ trailer has about 4000 cubic feet of space and subject to the same conditions a capacity of between 24-28,000lbs, and it has to be evenly distributed over the axels and centered in the truck side to side.

While loading is a skill that can be honed and perfected, making sure to put heavy or “base” items on first, making sure that there is no “wood on wood,” in the load, or god forbid “metal on wood,” and filling in the holes with smaller items, lighter boxes on the top heavier ones on the bottom, etc. this is the one skill of a Mover that can’t be learned, you have to be born with the eye.

I mentioned the capacity of a Trailer at 24-28,000lbs, when speaking with a Mover, a common question is what are you good for? A Top Mover will get at a minimum 25K, and up to 30K on his truck. Think of that, 20%, more weight, and the associated revenue, which brings us to the final topic of this article.

Businessman – A true Mover is a true businessman, his truck is his office and he is his own staff.

Every job has paperwork that must be completed accurately and submitted to the carrier in order to insure that the Mover gets the associated revenue.  And in many cases, the driver is required to collect payment – or he eats it.

On every job, the Mover has non-durable supplies that he has to have, boxes, tape, shrink wrap, floor protection, corner guards and more. Showing up at a job without these essentials is a recipe for disaster.

On his truck, the Mover has to keep and maintain hundreds of furniture pads and “skins;” decking bars and plywood to build over the chowder; rubber bands to secure pads to furniture; dollies and hand trucks to move items around; a tool chest with every conceivable bit or head to disassemble and reassemble every variety of furniture; Drills and saws to build crates; ladders to climb while loading and unloading the tiers in a truck(we don’t just pull it out, its real Jenga or Tetris). Along with these basic items, add in back support belts, T-shirts for the local crew(we all feel better when they are in uniform.) So many things to manage, and at the same time lift heavy furniture and drive hundreds of miles per day.

While driving, the Mover has to plan his next day’s work, confirm details with his customers and  insure that the labor is available and negotiate a fair price for their services.   Keep an eye on the diesel fuel in his truck, plan his route to allow for a safe place to park the truck and get his mandated hours of rest under the HOS (Hours of Service) rules, plan for his 34 Hour mandated reset while still meeting the needs of his customers. Also, keep his EZ-Pass funded ($102 for the George Washington Bridge); make sure he gets required maintenance on his truck (10,000 miles for an Oil Change – $3-400); keep safe truck and trailer tires, and they are not cheap Steer Tires, Drive Tires and Trailer tires $4-800 apiece and they call it an 18 Wheeler because it has 18 Tires.

Meanwhile, back at home your driver has a family, wives, children; a mortgage, a car payment, phone cable internet, and a truck payment (the truck alone costs between $120-180,000 – more than a lot of homes). AND, a Mover has to have a contingency fund to cover repairs on his truck. Fixing a bad “regen” system can cost between $10-20,000, and keep the Mover off the road for 7-10 days (and it NEVER happens at home).

So you think you’re a Mover, NOT even close.

Moving is an honorable Profession requiring years of leaning, teaching and experience.  It’s not a job, it’s a career and the men who do this have earned and deserve our full respect, as much as any Doctor, Lawyer, CPA, Nurse, Teacher, Manager. Respect the Pro’s and always appreciate them.