Documenting the American South Logo
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with John Thomas Outlaw, June 5, 1980. Interview H-0277. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The growth of the trucking industry

Outlaw describes the growth in government regulation of transportation. The way Outlaw tells it, the trucking industry stepped in to help the railroad industry get small loads to remote destinations. The increasing use of trucks spurred North Carolina to build a road system, and entrepreneurs established trucking businesses, some of which were quite successful.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with John Thomas Outlaw, June 5, 1980. Interview H-0277. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

How early was it that the state decided that there should be regulation of trucking?
In 1947. 1935 was when the Interstate Commerce Commission Act was put into effect, on a federal basis. And then it was not until 1947 that the legislature in North Carolina passed it. One thing of interest would be that the railroads, of course, were the cause of the Interstate Commerce Commission being formed, and that was done about 1887. The railroads had grown by 1887 to a very substantial operation, and there's no question about it, they were responsible for the growth at that time of our country. They had great competition where there was lots of big cities, but in the rural area, like through North Carolina and other southern states, there'd maybe just be one rail line or one road coming down maybe the eastern part of the state and one to the western part of the state. But the competition got so keen between the major railroads where there was the larger towns that they would get down to the point that the out-of-pocket cost was just not there; they actually would lose money. But then in this area where there was no competition, they would up those rates, so you had the rural areas paying for the competition of the big cities. And so rural people mainly just went up in arms about it, and then by 1887 Congress heard their cries and they enacted the Interstate Commerce Commission. The Interstate Commerce Commission controls the railroads even up to this very day. But by 1935, the motor carriers had, because of the Depression… The railroads were not adapted to shipping in small lots, and another thing, they couldn't move it out to a place of business after it got to the rail head; somebody had to pick it up with a wagon or truck. And the trucking industry first did a lot of the business of picking up the freight and delivering it from the rail head to the receiver or the shipper. Then, as time went on, the motor carriers, in particular during the Depression, fitted right into that, if a shipper wanted to get a small lot of something instead of getting a whole carload, he would ask for maybe a few hundred pounds. Well, they'd send this little truck over, and he'd pick it up and carry it to his place of business. The motor carrier industry, in my opinion, really did get its beginning during the Depression. Then going back to the early twenties, North Carolina was one of the first states to think in terms of paving roads, and by 1921 the state had established a system of roads to every county seat. These were not major highways like you see today, but at least it was a paved slab going from one point to the other. Because of that, the motor carriers soon learned that they could get from one point to the other, and one of the first freight lines, I guess, to move anything of any consequence was the Fredrickson Motor Express at Charlotte, and they moved freight from Charlotte to Hickory, North Carolina. These outlets became their major operations, and then by the time the War began the railroads could just handle so much freight. And there was such a tremendous need for raw materials and then the finished product moving to its destination that they'd use the truck kind of as a conveyor belt. They got the materials in, and the motor carriers would make delivery to the plant where the item was processed or manufactured, and it came out as a finished product at the other end of the plant, and then the trucks would take that and make distribution of it. So the trucking industry grew from the Depression to the War, and then after the War it came out as a major industry.
A lot of the truck lines actually got their start with particular single individuals having one truck?
Yes. During the Depression, so many of the men graduating from universities and all could not find anything to do. Persons like Grier Beam, who now is the owner of Carolina Freight Carriers. He bought a pickup truck, and he would go to Florida and buy produce and fruit and bring it back to Cherryville and sell it. He had finished the State University here in Raleigh, and that's the way he got up( ). Doc Thurston finished at Carolina, and he bought a pickup truck and started moving in this area, and then grew fast enough that he has made a truck line out of it. I think Grier Beam's operations went from there to now a computerized operation. I believe it's about $300 million they expect to do this year. Malcoln McLean's organization grew from his driving a truck to New York himself to now the McLean Trucking Company. He doesn't own it, of course, but McLean Trucking has 16,000 units. So we went from a very small beginning, and most of the companies that survived did real well. Of course, we had thousands of them that didn't survive, but it took a lot of hard work, a lot of ingenuity. There's one thing that's right interesting, that not all of them are well educated by any means, but those that were not educated, some of them did about as well as those that were.