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Family-owned Texas fleet keeps trucks operating longer and more comfortable using roller bushings


March 16, 2021

David L. Stevenson has spent the better part of his life in or around a truck.

Some of his family members hauled pipe out of the Houston area during the 1950s and 60s. Others owned a local Peterbilt dealership. Stevenson grew up working for his immediate family’s feed and fertilizer business before founding Custom Commodities Transport and later purchasing Elliott Truck Line.

“I was always taught that ‘these are the types of trucks we drive,’” Stevenson said. “I always had the opportunity to be around professionals in this line of work. I really enjoyed their day-to-day activities. I grew to love trucks and all types of machinery that makes things happen. It can be a valuable asset to our economy.”

It’s no surprise, then, that Stevenson and his father Bill struck out on their own in 1985. Custom Commodities has grown from David hauling feed in a cab-over Peterbilt truck to a 225-vehicle force in the Texas trucking industry.

Today, Stevenson’s team transports dry bulk like plastic pellets, and food-grade commodities including sweetener products that make their way into bakeries, restaurants and canning facilities.

Stevenson purchased Elliott in 2009 and added its liquid chemical and dry bulk capabilities to the portfolio. Like Stevenson, former CEO Vince Elliott started out driving on his own before transforming his one-truck livestock operation into a HAZMAT-approved hauling company.

“We’ve really enjoyed the opportunities to serve in these industries,” Stevenson said. “I am so grateful we live in a country where we’ve been afforded the opportunity to do this.”

Bill Stevenson, a World War II pilot, and his wife – who managed an engineering company in Houston – moved to Gilmer, Texas after the war.

The town of about 5,100 sits 120 miles east of Dallas and 20 miles northwest of Longview, Texas. Gilmer is the birthplace of legendary musicians Don Henley of the Eagles, Johnny Mathis and Freddie King.

It’s also the home of the East Texas Yamboree, an annual October festival celebrating yams – a former cash crop in the area – that draws thousands of visitors annually.

It’s here that Stevenson developed his vision for a career in trucking. Between observing his neighbors and relatives’ reliance on the category and moving feed and fertilizer for his family’s operations, he was hooked.

Elliott Truck Line even used to deliver to the Stevensons’ farm store at one point.

“This has always been my lifelong dream ever since I can remember,” Stevenson said.

So as Custom Commodities and Elliott seek to sustain their workforce and maximize the life of their vehicles, Stevenson has come to appreciate how even the smallest detail can make a big difference. One example is the roller bushings he’s deployed in his fleet.

“It’s a true no-brainer,” he said.

Roller bushings aid a heavy-duty truck’s suspension by absorbing the impact of driving on bumpy roads, gravel or other choppy surfaces. Unlike traditional spring and pin bushings, roller bushings aren’t prone to seizing or contamination. They also last longer than newer rubber or polyurethane bushings.

Stevenson first tested out roller bushings on 10 trucks. When his drivers reported a more comfortable ride, the CEO wanted to try it out himself.

“I have a CDL and operate trucks from time to time, because I love to do it,” Stevenson said. “I noticed how well they felt going down the road on the front ends; whether the trailer was empty or loaded, either way there was this really smooth ride.”

Stevenson’s family-run operation has its own in-house maintenance team. He and most of his drivers are intimately familiar with the inner workings of their trucks, as well.

So he can easily articulate how roller bushings take and hold more grease than other bushings, which can cause all kinds of issues from binding to alignment issues to wearing out to just plain making the ride less comfortable.

“In my experience, just working on trucks and seeing what makes them tick, Horton roller bushings have a superior design in greasing for the longevity of their application,” Stevenson said. “It actually seems to work better as time goes by.”

Because Horton cooling systems come standard on many heavy-duty Peterbilt and International trucks like the ones Custom Commodities and Elliott deploy, Stevenson’s connection to the manufacturer dates back to his early driving days. He’s also seen trucks stay in top shape for longer as roller bushings save wear on the suspension, tires and other chassis components.

Most of Custom Commodities and Elliott’s Peterbilt, International and Freightliner trucks today feature Horton bushings, with plans to add more in the coming months and years.

“We’ve always had extremely good response from Horton,” Stevenson said. “It’s always been very timely. When we reach out, they’re very timely in offering us solutions, then providing the knowledge, also why something needs to be done in one form or fashion.”