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Truckers are hit hard by high diesel fuel prices

FARGO -- Jason Curfman spent $270 on diesel fuel in Fargo on Tuesday for his truck so he could finish hauling gravel from Rollag, Minn., to Casselton.

The Fargo resident and nine-year truck driver bought about 68 gallons from the Petro Stopping Center, where the price was $3.91 per gallon.

Tuesday marked the first day of work for Curfman because it was the first day of the construction season for many builders who depend on truck drivers like him to haul building materials for their projects. He said it's unclear if the rise in diesel fuel will affect the amount of driving he'll do for construction companies.

"It's going to be tight," Curfman said of his budget, which also includes repair work for any wear and tear on his 1995 Kenworth T800. "I will go as far as my budget will take me."

Curfman - who recalled spending as much as 60 cents per gallon less last year - is one of millions of people concerned about how the surge of diesel fuel prices will affect their lives. Other truck drivers across the country are voicing their frustrations over the nationwide average for a gallon of diesel, which is about $4.

In Atlanta, a protesting convoy of trucks pulled out of a truck stop about 30 strong, and got a lot stronger Tuesday morning.

By the time the truckers reached the east side of the city, there were about three miles of tractor-trailers, headlights on, caution lights flashing, puttering along at about 20 mph.

Near Florida's Port of Tampa, more than 50 tractor-trailer rigs sat idle as their drivers demanded that contractors pay them more to cover their fuel and other costs.

Outside Chicago, three truck drivers were ticketed for impeding traffic on Interstate 55, driving three abreast at low speeds, the state police said.

Peggy Anderson, a spokeswoman for the North Dakota Department of Transportation, said the state Highway Patrol reported no similar protests Tuesday in the Fargo area.

Victor Blanchette, a truck driver from Alberta, Canada, said he also did not notice similar incidents Tuesday during his drive to Fargo from Minneapolis. He said diesel prices in Canada mirror those in the United States.

"Everything's so expensive ... you have to work as twice as hard to earn a decent living," he said during a break from the road at Fargo's Flying J truck stop. "Everything - the cost of coffee - goes up, but wages stay the same."

Danny Schatz, who runs Fargo's Petro Stopping Center, said his prices are affected by the diesel price increases because most of his merchandise is hauled in via trucks.

"My costs go up like everyone else's," including for food and services, he said. "It doesn't matter if you're in the truck or grocery business. ... It's swim or drown."

Clayton Boyce, a spokesman for the American Trucking Association, said diesel prices are the worst he's seen, but said his organization does not support or condone the strike.

His group is pushing for a number of measures to keep prices down and help truckers, including allowing exploration of oil-rich areas of the U.S. that are now off limits and setting a 65 mph national speed limit.

Blanchette, 64, said his company asks all drivers to keep their speeds below 70 mph, but he travels at 62 mph. "I've never changed it, but could travel about 100 mph if I wanted to," he said with a smile.

A truck driver who identified himself as Ivan at Fargo's Flying J said the strain of diesel prices could mean an end to his five-year run. "If prices go up and up, I may have to sell my truck."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The Forum and The Dickinson Press are both owned by Forum Communications Co.