Category Archives: Trucking

Posts about trucking – from the horse and wagon days to the 2010s.

Auto Truck Aid to Railroads

When railroad-truck competition began to heat up in the early 1920s, trucks were seen as a means of getting unprofitable short-haul “less-than-carload” freight off the rails, freeing rail capacity for more profitable long-haul business. Today, shippers and truckers are increasingly shifting over-the-road freight to intermodal rail, which allows truckers to get less-profitable long-haul shipments out of their trailers. The following article from 1922 looks at rail-truck competition in the post-war (World War I) economy.


The Traffic World, Saturday, Jan. 21, 1922

THE MOTOR TRUCK has already become a necessary supplement to the railroad and will undoubtedly become more and more important to them as times go on, said Mr. [Alfred Joseph] Brosseau, president of the International Motor Co. [later Mack Trucks, edit.] and secretary of the National Automobile Chamber of Commerce, in answer to the question, “Is Highway Transportation an Aid to the Railroads?” before a meeting of the Shippers’ Conference of Greater New York, held in the rooms of the Merchants’ Association, last week. Mr. Brosseau outlined the value of the motor truck as a method of helping the railroads get rid of some of their expensive and unremunerative short haul traffic, and went so far as to predict that in the coming business revival the motor truck would be the means of saving the railroads from government ownership.

“If it saves us from government ownership of the railroads, the motor truck will again have justified itself.” — Alfred Joseph Brosseau.

Touching upon the question of taxes, the speaker said that the motor truck had paid its share and that, in the opinion of men who were supposed to be familiar with the problem, the truck ought not to be taxed any more than the freight car. He said in part:

“If you ask the question, ‘Did motor truck transportation over the highways help the railroads during the busy war years?’ I am sure the answer will be ‘Yes.’ Without the motor truck, transportation would have broken down utterly. Many industries would have been seriously embarrassed, and the country would have faced the possibility of hunger.

No one who is at all well informed regarding traffic conditions during 1917-1920 will deny this. On the contrary, they will agree that the motor truck was a great help to the railroads during this period. It goes without saying it served the public also.

As you all know, business has been poor for the last year and the railroads can now handle all the traffic that is offered. We are asked if the railroads are now helped by the motor truck. My answer is ‘yes,’ for business is going to be good in the near future, and when it is the railroads will again be unable to handle the traffic. We shall then have delayed shipments, embargoes, blockades and the truck will again save the situation for the railroads and for the public. It may also save the railroads from the fate they so narrowly escaped during the last traffic jam — permanent government ownership.

If the motor truck is eliminated now and is not available when the next boom is upon us, the railroads will fall down so hard that government ownership advocates will have an excellent argument to prove that the government should take over the railroads. If it saves us from government ownership of the railroads, the motor truck will again have justified itself.

I do not know the exact proportion of the existing terminal facilities needed to handle l.c.l [less-than-carload shipments by rail car, edit.] package freight moving less than 50 miles, but we are all sure that it is a very considerable part of the whole. It may be one-half, or one-quarter, but whatever it is, it should not be devoted to the handling of the non-profitable l.c.l package freight that can best be moved by motor trucks. And again, if the railroads were relieved of this n0n-profitable l.c.l. package freight, the terminals would then be ample to handle the long-distance freight. The railroads would not need $1,000,000,000 a year for additional terminal facilities and would have enough equipment to move all long distance freight, even during boom times. That is the answer to the question, “Is highway transport an aid to the railroads?’

— 30 —

Alfred Joseph Brosseau was the president of Mack Trucks for 17 years in the 1920s and ’30s and notably said, “The forgotten man in transportation is the man who pays the freight.”


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It’s Big. It’s Red. It’s Vim.

VIMMy choice for best truck ad of 1922. From the April 1922 edition of “Power Wagon,” another great magazine from the early days of trucking. More on Vim Motor Truck below:

The Day (New London, Conn.), Tuesday Afternoon, April 4, 1916


“The advance made by The Vim Motor Truck Co. in the past two years is almost phenomenal. From a small beginning, the Vim Motor Truck Co., through sheer merit, has become and is now recognized as one of the largest exclusive producers of commercial trucks in the world, and it is safe to say that when the new million dollar plant, now in course of erection at Twenty-third and Market streets, is completed, it will be the largest. Thus will Philadelphia add new laurels to its already rich crown.”

Alas, those laurels would soon fade. Vim Motor Truck, founded by Harold B. Larzelere in 1915, reportedly was building 13,000 trucks a year at one point, but the company did not survive long. Apparently, it was acquired by the Standard Steel Car Co. of Pittsburgh in 1921 and was shut down by 1923, when news reports surface of bankruptcy-related litigation.



Filed under Motor Vehicles, Trucking

Trucking’s Eclipsed Electric Age

And now for a word from our sponsors (in 1916) …


IN THE EARLY YEARS of the “horseless age,” electric trucks vied with gasoline models to replace the ubiquitous horse and wagon on American streets. This advertisement, which continues below, appeared in The Traffic World in 1916.

“The superiority of the Electric for city work is already appreciated by the more experienced users of motor vehicles. In numbers the Electric is just beginning to make itself felt, but in proving certain economic laws it has already made history. You can call “white” “black” for a while but when it comes to a show-down somebody loses.

“Experienced motor truck users have ceased to buy motor trucks on price alone. You can buy a pleasure car by-product for half  what you pay for a good Electric, but it will last one-third as long and in most cases it will be out of commission so often that the necessary reserve equipment will eat up any possible saving. That’s not exaggerating — just talk to the older users.

“Honestly now, did you ever seriously set out to learn why an Electric truck is different from a gasoline truck for city work? Another question: How big a premium in operating costs are you willing to pay for your prejudice or indifference to efficient delivery in the city?

“Would you be interested in learning what G.V. users say about G.V. efficiency? Then write today for Bulletin 104.”

YOU MAY DETECT a note of desperation in the ad copy above. The General Vehicle Company, owned in part by General Electric since 1906, was facing stiff gasoline-powered competition by 1917. Improvements in engine design, including the invention of the electric starter, and Henry Ford’s mass production of comparatively cheap gasoline-powered vehicles eventually pulled the plug on the electric competition, though the industry’s battery charge lasted some time.

“New York is probably the greatest market for the electric road truck in the country,” Electrical World reported on Feb. 5, 1921, as the city prepared for an electric vehicle show. “More than five hundred enterprises are now using in the aggregate in the metropolitan district almost 5,000 electric trucks and delivery wagons, some of which have been in service 20 years and more. The largest installation is a fleet of 319 vehicles.”

It wasn’t the gasoline truck that killed GeVeCo, however, but the Great War. The company built Gnome aircraft engines at its Long Island City factory, but apparently couldn’t churn them out fast enough to support the war effort.

“The production of 5,000 large Gnome engines was entirely beyond the capacity of the General Vehicle Co.,” says the post-war U.S. Army Aircraft Production Facts published in 1919 (page 13). “Therefore negotiations were entered into with the General Motors Co. to take this contract.” The two companies agreed to combine resources, with General Vehicle “producing as many of the 110-horsepower Gnome engines as it could with its existing equipment.”

According to the U.S. Army publication, the GeVeCo plant in Long Island City was later leased by the Wright-Martin Aircraft Corporation from the U.S. government, which apparently nationalized the plant to speed production.

The end of the First World War, as far as I’ve been able to ascertain, was also the end of GeVeCo, though some of its operations may have been assumed by the Walter Truck Company, which had produced gasoline-powered trucks since 1909. By 1921, Walter Truck had entered the electric truck market, producing trucks of 1-ton to 7-ton “heavy-duty sizes,” according to Electrical World.

After decades of neglect, electric vehicles — especially gasoline or diesel-electric hybrids — are enjoying something of a resurgence. Concern over carbon emissions, congestion and noise pollution is reopening markets to electrics, especially in New York, where companies such as Duane Reade and Frito-Lay are using battery-powered trucks built by Smith Electric Vehicles, and California, where UPS deployed 100 electric package vans earlier this year.

Plugging city-based fleets back into the power grid can lead to substantial fuel cost savings — as much as 80%, according to some operators — but electric trucks still cost much more than diesel-powered ones, and their owners often rely on government subsidies to purchase them. Electric trucks are also competing against surging interest in compressed and liquified natural gas vehicles fueled by an historic natural gas boom.

If their price becomes more competitive and fuel savings more apparent (and more quickly realized), electric trucks may yet make a comeback on city streets.

— wbc

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Overnite’s J. Harwood Cochrane: Talking With a Trucking Pioneer

This June, I had the good fortune to interview J. Harwood Cochrane, the 100-year-old founder of famed trucking company Overnite Transportation, for The Journal of Commerce, along with Jack Holmes, the president of UPS Freight. Below are the first two episodes  in a JOC video series about Cochrane’s career, Overnite and trucking history, “Present at the Birth of Trucking.”

Cochrane was born in November 1912, shortly after Woodrow Wilson was elected president. In the same year, The Traffic World launched a column dedicated to “Increasing Efficiency on the Short Haul” through use of “the motor truck,” an invention the Chicago-based magazine predicted “will exert a profound influence upon our industrial progress.”

The motor truck did just that, and J. Harwood Cochrane grabbed the “guiding wheel” for a long and wild ride. He founded Overnite in Richmond, Va., in 1935 with two trucks. Overnite expanded across the country by acquiring more than 50 competitors. The company was sold in 1986 to railroad Union Pacific for the stellar sum of $1.2 billion. Cochrane then founded another company, Highway Express, which he sold in 2003 — at the age of 91.

These two videos look at the early days of trucking and how Cochrane founded Overnite. More episodes are on the way.

For more on the topic, see “Trucking through Time” on the website, where a full transcript of the Cochrane-Holmes is also available (for paying JOC members only, at the moment). My thanks again to Jack Holmes and J. Harwood Cochrane for their time, their interest and their insight.

— wbc

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September 24, 2013 · 10:17 pm

‘Too Long at the Wheel’: An Early Look at Truck Driver Hours, Fatigue

When the truck became a viable means of intercity freight transport in the U.S. post-World War I, truck drivers hit the road and didn’t look back.


Photo courtesy Library of Congress, no copyright restriction.

The fledgling trucking industry became notorious for drivers who would take whatever load they could get as far as they could, hopefully without falling asleep and running off the road, sleeping when and where they could.

By the 1930s, the push was on to limit on the amount of time truckers could spend behind the wheel, first at the state and then the federal level. The Motor Carrier Act of 1935 ordered the Interstate Commerce Commission to regulate truck driver hours of service, and the first federal rules were issued in 1938.

Truck driver fatigue and hours of service are still major issues today — the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which oversees trucking and promulgates safety rules, began enforcing updated HOS regulations for truckers July 1, 2013 that cut into the hours they can spend behind the wheel.

This article was published in the Jan. 26, 1935 issue of The Traffic World.

Hour Limits For Truck Drivers

Under the title “Too Long at the Wheel,” the National Safety Council has issued a report dealing with fatigue among drivers of motor vehicles. The report is the result of studies made in each state, supplemented by personal investigations by two council engineers. It shows that 1 percent of all automobile accidents occur while the driver of the car is asleep or extremely fatigued, as compared with 3.2 percent attributable to intoxication or partial intoxication, 5.1 (percent) to defects in the vehicle or equipment and 0.7 of 1 percent “struck or struck by railroad train.”

In a summary of the report, the council points out that “violations of these rules (limiting hours of consecutive driving in most states) are most common and serious in long-haul for-hire trucking, particularly among drivers who own their own vehicles; although flagrant offenses occur in other types of trucking and are not uncommon in some kinds of bus operations.”

So far as regularly run common carrier truck fleets are concerned, the council says that many “have already adopted safety measures voluntarily, and the only effect enforced legislation on hours and duty will have on them is to reduce competition from, and chance of collision with trucks whose drivers are working dangerously long hours.”

Conclusions reached from the study are embodied in a series of “general recommendations.” The council recommends that the element of fatigue be given more importance in accident reports, that a scientific study be made to determine what effect continuous driving, long hours without sleep and mechanical aspects of vehicles have on fatigue and to ascertain the recuperative value of various rest periods, and that fleet operators and private owners voluntarily organize their businesses to avoid excessively long hours on duty for drivers.

All states, the council recommends, should limit the hours on duty of all except the drivers of private cars, that limitation to cover total working and waiting time, not merely time spent at the wheel. “There is need,” the report says, “for agreement among the states as to what constitutes time on duty and the conditions under which rest may be obtained.” After such laws have been made, the report said, a definite procedure for their enforcement should be laid down.

Finally, the report recommends that truck operators adopt a system of trip records so that these records may show the exact conditions under which their drivers are working.

** 30 **

Click here for a slideshow on the history of truck driver HOS rules I created for The Journal of Commerce.

— wbc

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