‘Today, if I had 8 more drivers…’

R. French Transport returns to growth mode

Arcola– R. French Transport has done something not heard of very often for the past two years.

“We bought four new trucks,” said Ralph French, who runs the business with his wife Colleen. “We just got them on the road here. Last week we got the last one rigged up and going.”

 “We’re trying to ramp for it to hopefully turn around.

“One of our biggest hurdles, right now, is manpower, which I’m sure you hear from a lot of people. We’re steadily having ads out, looking for men. Any of the other companies or services I’ve talked to, they’re feeling the same thing. Since things have picked up, the drilling rigs are going again, the service rigs; everybody is looking for manpower.”

Compared to the peak of the boom, R. French Transport had reduced its staff about 60 per cent. “We had a lot in Manitoba that have gone back. Since the slowdown, rates have been lower. In turn, the wages are lower. So people aren’t willing to travel far away from home for wages they can make at home, being home every night.

“It’s hard to attract good employment when you can’t offer them more than what they can sustain at home. We have a camp in our yard and everything. Free room, but not board, to try to attract employees,” Ralph said.

Colleen said they have 24 on payroll now. “We had a lot of lease operators. Counting lease operators, we were closer to 50-55,” she said at peak.

“We’ve been trying to stay with our own trucks and employees. We just brought on a few (lease operators) because we’ve started fracking again.”

It’s been over a year that R. French Transport’s fracking operations have been idle. They have a frac water heating facility near Kisbey, with multiple frac tanks there.

They’re hauling heated fresh water again from Kisbey facility. “We sell and heat water out of there,” Ralph said.

The facility has been around for three years now, but was dormant last year until early January 2017.

“Ralph worked on that pretty hard for a while,” Colleen said.

The facility has five water tanks and an additional frac tanks on site. The rest of their frac tank rental fleet is out with a client, a welcome development. That fleet is enough to support two frac spreads.

“For the last year, we haven’t done any fracs until now,” Ralph said, “But we’ve been doing a lot of service water work.”

“We’re still transferring oil and salt water,” Ralph said.

Asked how many people they could put to work, if they could hire them, Ralph said, “Today, if I had another eight drivers…”

“We’ve got trucks sitting with no drivers in them. We’re turning down work,” Colleen added.

“We’ve turned down more work since Dec. 1 than I think we ever have, in our whole time being in business, only because we couldn’t supply the men,” Ralph said.

“Our motto is to ‘Never say no,’ but we got to the point where we just had to, because we didn’t have the manpower to stay ahead. We’ve got our commitments that we have to look after. Anything extra is a bonus, and you always want to take those bonus jobs, but it got to the point where we had to start saying, ‘No,” which is unfortunate.

“We’ve noticed an increase in activity, for sure.”

The rates they can charge have not yet rebounded. “When the crunch came, we were asked by pretty well all oil companies to give our rock bottom (rate) so we could all continue to work, and we’re pretty well still there.”

“Hopefully the oil presses will stabilize, and people will be more confident in what will happen. Hopefully, in turn, we’ll see some rate increases and some renegotiations so we can all carry on,” Ralph said.

Spring break-up is usually when that sort of things happen and some contracts come due.

“We’re not going anywhere, put it that way. Our company is here to stay. We’re hoping that we can start to show a little profit, which we haven’t for the last couple years. We’ve been looking after our core guys.”

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