The first time Daniel Bearden, Marrlin Transit vice president, laid eyes on a Kenworth truck was when he watched the classic film Smokey and the Bandit (1977) as a kid. The movie featured a Kenworth W900A, driven by a character nicknamed ‘Snowman.’ Over 30 years later, it’s still a memory Bearden vividly remembers.
“I remember thinking the Kenworth truck featured in Smokey and the Bandit was the most beautiful truck I had ever seen,” Bearden recalled. “It was then that I knew I wanted to be the owner of a Kenworth someday.”
Today, Bearden is vice president of Marrlin Transit, a family-operated transportation company founded in 1993 by his mother, Marr Lynn Bearden, who currently serves on the Arkansas Trucking Association Board. The Van Buren, Arkansas-based company specializes in transporting dry van commodities throughout most U.S. states and regionally from its headquarters.
As vice president of the company, Bearden is responsible for purchasing equipment and managing operations for the company. Marrlin Transit operates 52 trucks – primarily Kenworth T680s with 76-inch sleepers and a few day cabs. All the T680s are specified with PACCAR MX-13 engines rated at 455 hp and PACCAR 12-speed automated transmissions purchased through MHC Kenworth – Van Buren.
“We first began adding Kenworth aerodynamic truck models in the early 2000s and have continued to buy Kenworth’s latest models since,” said Bearden. “These trucks have played a significant role in our company’s success over the years. Kenworth’s latest aerodynamic model, the T680, is the best truck we’ve ever owned.”
According to Bearden, fuel economy, weight savings and engine reliability were key factors for him when deciding how to specify the company’s first Kenworth T680s in 2014.
“When we were getting ready to place our first order, Eddie Wakefield at MHC Kenworth (Van Buren) recommended going with the PACCAR MX-13 engine rated at 455 hp and the PACCAR 12-speed automated transmission,” said Bearden. “We get plenty of power with the 13-liter engine and it’s lighter than other engines on the market. Combined with the PACCAR automated transmission, we’ve achieved improved fuel economy and further reduced truck weight, which allows us to increase payload,” he said.
“We’re finding the PACCAR MX-13 engine to be very reliable for us,” said Bearden. “We do our maintenance in-house and we haven’t run across any problems – just the regular scheduled maintenance. We’re able to keep our trucks on the road and away from the shop, which keeps us, and our drivers, more profitable.”
In the past, Marrlin Transit operated a few automatic transmission trucks with the majority specified with manual transmissions – until the fleet began adding Kenworth T680s. Many new drivers entering the industry only possess licenses that certify them to operate automatic transmissions trucks. Bearden is finding that specifying trucks with automated transmissions is the way of the future.
“The industry is changing,” he said. “There are fewer drivers on the road now that have the experience to operate manual transmissions. For us, having trucks with automated transmissions opens up a bigger pool of drivers we can recruit from. Plus, our more experienced drivers – who were hesitant at first when we made the transition to automatics – are finding automated transmissions make driving ‘easier’ since they don’t have to worry about shifting gears.”
When it comes to driver retention and recruiting, Bearden noted that operating Kenworth T680s helps in the company’s retention and recruiting efforts.
“We hear all the time how much our drivers enjoy the large space and creature comforts the Kenworth T680 provides. And, they appreciate being in equipment that performs at a high level. We’ve had several drivers who decided to join us primarily based on the equipment that we have.”
According to Bearden, driver safety is a top priority for the company. Marrlin Transit uses the Bendix® Wingman® Advanced™ collision mitigation system, which detects when the truck may be about to collide with another vehicle or object and alerts the driver and takes pre-emptive braking action – when necessary – to avoid or considerably reduce the severity of a collision. The collision mitigation system is a standard feature on Kenworth T680s.
“This technology helps keep our drivers safer on the road,” said Bearden. “We’ve reduced the number of incidents that occur since this system first became available. I believe Kenworth is on the forefront when it comes to the truck technology that they provide. This system makes a difference.”
Marrlin Transit’s long-haul drivers, on average, accumulate 120,000 miles on the road per year. Once their Kenworth T680s reach 400,000 miles, Marrlin Transit trades them in to MHC Kenworth – Van Buren. “We’ve been pleased with the resale value we get from our T680s. Eddie (Wakefield) knows how to spec our trucks so that we can maximum the return on our trucks when it’s time to trade them in,” said Bearden. “It’s funny, you’d think drivers would be excited to jump into new equipment every couple of years. What we’ve found is that some of our drivers don’t want to give up the T680s that they’re in – they’ve made it their ‘home’ and the truck still performs great. When a driver is happy being in equipment that is a few years old, that says something about the quality of the T680,” said Bearden.