To mark CCJ’s centennial anniversary, here is the CCJ editors’ list of some of the most important regulations, innovations and events that have shaped the trucking industry over the last 100 years.
Disagree with a ranking? Feel like there’s something we missed? We’d love to hear your opinion. Go to www.CCJ100.com/feedback and let us know what you think.
CCJ’s editors would like to thank the following for their input and feedback in compiling the Milestones: Bill Johnson, executive director of the American Truck Historical Society; Gov. Bill Graves, president and chief executive officer of the American Trucking Associations; Jerry Standley, former CCJ editorial director; and Rich Cross, former CCJ senior technical editor.
100 Trucking dominates pop culture
C.W. McCall’s #1 hit “Convoy” in 1976 was made into a movie of the same name two years later. Also memorable during the decade were Claude Akins’ “Movin’ On” TV series and “B.J. and the Bear,” as well as Burt Reynolds’ “Smokey and the Bandit,” which dominated cinema screens. Almost overnight, the word “Smokey” was used in the pages of CCJ. A White Motor Trucks ad in May 1980 touted “You’ll discover how to raise average road speed 10%, to add thousands of profit-producing miles without angering Smokey!” The lasting effects of trucking’s “15 minutes of fame” are debatable, but in the near term undoubtedly more people became interested in working as truck drivers.
99 SuperTruck program
In January 2010, the Department of Energy announced $115 million in funding for three projects that focus on cost-effective measures to improve efficiency of Class 8 long-haul freight trucks by 50 percent. Technologies to be demonstrated by 2015 include improved aerodynamics, reduced engine idling technologies, waste heat recovery to increase engine efficiency, advanced combustion techniques and powertrain hybridization.
98 First truck leasing program
In 1916, Warwick Saunders and his sons founded Ford Livery Co., thought to be the first truck leasing and rental company in history. It later became Saunders Leasing System and grew to become the third-largest truck leasing company in the country with 136 locations and 10,000 trucks. Saunders was purchased by Ryder in 1986.
97 Truck driver minimum age
The longstanding controversial requirement that drivers be at least 21 for interstate operations means trucking isn’t an option for new high school graduates. In 2000, the Truckload Carriers Association proposed a tightly controlled pilot program to allow 18-year-olds to drive interstate, but the plan was rejected in 2003.
96 ICC Termination Act of 1995
Congress finally got around to abolishing the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1995, transferring its remaining powers to the newly created Surface Transportation Board. Perhaps the most significant provision of the ICC Termination Act of 1995 for trucking, however, was a measure giving independent contractors the right to challenge alleged motor carrier violations of the federal truth-in-leasing regulations in court. The measure enabled a long line of lawsuits against trucking companies that continue to this day.
95 Load optimization
The power of today’s computer hardware combined with sophisticated business intelligence software, satellite positioning, mobile communications and other technologies to populate databases with accurate real-time information has allowed fleet operations to make much faster and accurate decisions on which load opportunities are most profitable.
94 Electronic data interchange
Beginning in the mid-1970s, electronic data interchange, or EDI, allowed shippers, carriers and others in the supply chain to transact business using third-party communications networks. EDI has survived by migrating from closed networks to Internet-based platforms.
93 Wide-base single tires
So-called “super singles” have been around for decades, but it was about 10 years ago that Michelin relaunched the concept for on-highway operations for reasons of saving weight as well as reducing rolling resistance. Bridgestone also offers a wide-base single for tractors, and several suppliers now have them for trailers. Two federal agencies recently proposed truck fuel efficiency standards that would give wide-base singles a further boost.
92 Weigh station bypass
One challenge with the federal inspection program (CCJ Milestone No. 77) was the need to decide which trucks to inspect and which to let pass. In the early 1980s, Heavy Vehicle Electronic License Plate (HELP) – today a not-for-profit public-private partnership – conceived of a transponder-based system that would allow trucks operated by carriers with good safety records to bypass weigh stations. The initiative, now known as PrePass, along with a smaller program called Norpass both allow drivers to save time and fuel by maintaining road speed past weigh stations.
91 Federal heavy vehicle use tax
The Revenue Act of 1938 established a 2 percent tax on the retail sale of tractors used for highway transportation in conjunction with a trailer or semi-trailer. The definition of highway tractor has become specific over time, and under Section 4051 of the Internal Revenue Code, the federal government has grown the tax to 12 percent today.
90 LED lighting
Introduced in the 1990s, marker lights using light-emitting diode technology were slow to catch on because they were expensive and, therefore, often prone to theft. But they had the advantages of lower power draw and dramatically longer life than incandescent bulbs. So by the late 2000s, they had become common. More recently, lighting suppliers are beginning to market headlights based on LED technology.
89 Whitman vs. American Trucking Associations
In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the Environmental Protection Agency in a landmark ruling on the scope of EPA’s powers under the Clean Air Act. In a nutshell, the court declared that EPA’s job under the act was to protect public health and that the agency was not to consider costs in setting national ambient air quality standards. The decision bolstered EPA’s authority to impose NOx and particulate matter standards on the trucking industry. The case wasn’t specific to trucking; ATA just happened to be the first listed alphabetically among the groups suing.
88 Numeric highway designations
The fact that highways are numbered seems so obvious today that we forget this wasn’t always the case. In 1917, mapmaker Rand McNally introduced the concept of identifying roads by number, debuting on a road map of Illinois. In March 1925, the American Association of State Highway Officials began planning a federal highway system, which U.S. agricultural authorities approved that November. Major east-west routes would be numbered in multiples of 10, while major north-south routes would end in 1 or 5. Although the Interstate highway system didn’t follow the original pattern precisely, it resembles it closely.
87 Air ride seats
Introduced by Bostrom in 1963, the air ride seat represented a major improvement in driver comfort and helped reduce driver fatigue over long hauls.
86 Electronic ignition
The first electronic ignition, a transistorized system developed by Delco-Remy, improved ignition reliability and reduced maintenance costs by eliminating ignition system points and the condenser.
85 Massachusetts vs. EPA
In April 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases qualify as an “air pollutant,” giving the Environmental Protection Agency statutory authority to regulate emissions of such gases from new motor vehicles.
84 Selective catalytic reduction technology
Most engine makers chose to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s mandatory reduction of NOx emissions for 2010 by turning to an aftertreatment solution called selective catalytic reduction. SCR involves injecting a urea-based solution into the exhaust stream, thus converting NOx into water vapor and air. By addressing NOx reduction in the exhaust stream, engine makers were able to improve engine efficiency.
83 First Federal Highway Act
The First Federal Highway Act appropriated $75 million for highway construction and perhaps more importantly mandated state highway departments.
82 Pre-cure retreading
The traditional approach to retreading tires had been to mold the tread during retreading, but Bandag pioneered pre-cure retreading. The tread is made separately and then bonded to the tire casing, resulting in an increased number of tread pattern choices available.
81 World War II rationing/military production
America’s participation in World War II meant great sacrifices for fleets and truck and component manufacturers. Most of truck production during the first three years of the war was destined for the Pacific and European fronts, and civilian fleets were left waiting in the wings to move domestic freight. Tire rationing and fuel rationing crippled commercial fleets. It wasn’t until early 1945 that restrictions began to ease.
80 Steel/aluminum wheels
Early truck rims were made from wood and lasted about as long as you’d expect in tough working conditions. Steel truck wheels offered greater durability and were an instant hit, followed by lightweight aluminum wheels a generation later.
79 Pre-Employment Screening Program
Until May 2010, a motor carrier hiring a prospective driver had no knowledge about the driver’s inspection history. That changed when the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration rolled out the Pre-Employment Screening Program, which implemented a 2005 congressional mandate.
78 Port of L.A.’s Clean Truck Program
Targeting major sources of air pollution at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the Clean Truck Program established a progressive ban on polluting trucks, beginning in 2008 with the prohibition of pre-1989 trucks.
77 Federal inspection program
The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance was established in 1980 by seven western states and one Canadian province. It was initially formed to cover uniform vehicle inspections, but has since grown to cover driver and cargo inspections. CVSA later established the North American Standard Out-of-Service Criteria that outlines critical commercial vehicle inspection items and established procedures for commercial vehicle inspectors to determine when commercial vehicles are no longer safe to operate based on mechanical condition.
76 Anti-collision radar
The deadliest crashes involving trucks are those where fast-moving 40-ton 18-wheelers strike slow-moving or motionless automobiles from behind. Although there remains no substitute for training drivers to maintain separation, even the most skilled drivers can on occasion lose focus. To help reduce tragic accidents from these situations, suppliers developed forward-looking radar systems on trucks that would provide audible alerts of potential rear-end collisions. Early systems date back to the 1970s, but it wasn’t until the mid-1990s when Eaton introduced the Vorad system – bought by Bendix in 2009 – that the idea gained relatively wide acceptance.
75 Citizens’Band radio
Starting in the 1940s, the Citizens’ Band radio became increasingly popular as the only mobile communications tool available. The two-way radios represented a major leap in efficiency and productivity for local drivers and their dispatchers. For long-haul drivers, the CB gradually took hold as a tool for communications among drivers – especially to warn each other of police officers ready to enforce the new 55 mph speed limit. The CB radio briefly became part of American popular culture in the late 1970s (CCJ Milestone No. 100). While it raised the profile of the trucking industry, growing use of the CB by automobile drivers created a bit of an image problem. In 1978, ATA called on truck drivers to clean up their act on the CB airwaves, calling CB radios “a tool for prostitutes and borderline sex perverts.”
74 FMVSS 121
In 1975, the federal government issued Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 121, which imposed a stopping distance standard so stringent that the only conceivable way to achieve it was to adopt antilock braking systems. But the technology wasn’t ready for primetime – a problem compounded by incompatibility issues between tractors equipped with ABS and trailers that weren’t. FMVSS 121 was a disaster – both technically and financially. The rule led to a huge pre-buy followed by a collapse in sales before a federal appeals courts sided with the industry and the government had to start over. ABS finally did make its way into the industry in the 1990s, and the most recent version of FMVSS 121 adopted in 2009 generally will require truck owners to spec either air disc brakes or larger drum brakes.
73 Department of Transportation established
In 1967, Congress established a Cabinet-level Department of Transportation, which absorbed the Federal Highway Administration and the Interstate Commerce Commission.
72 Antilock brake mandate
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published a final rule to require that medium and heavy vehicles be equipped with an antilock brake system (ABS) to improve the lateral stability and steering control of these vehicles during braking and reduce jackknifing and other losses of control during braking. The rollout of the rule took effect between 1997 and 1999.
71 Charge air cooler
Rolled out in the early 1980s, the air-to-air charge-air cooler represented a major leap in engine technology because it allowed for increased power with reduced engine heat stresses and emissions.
Until the early 1960s, trucks used DC (direct current) generators to charge batteries, and that generally required high rpm. The alternator provided AC (alternating current) more efficiently, allowing a constant voltage curve even at idle speeds. Among other things, this change improved driver comfort during rest periods by allowing drivers to operate air conditioning as well as “hotel load” appliances while the truck idled.
69 Air ride suspension
The term “rides like a truck” was no accident: Early trucks featured notoriously rough rides due to a combination of bad roads, heavy loads and primitive suspensions. That began to change in the late 1940s when GM began experimenting with air suspensions on its urban bus line. A decade later, air ride suspensions began to show up in heavy-duty applications – most notably on trailers hauling fragile cargo. Today, air ride suspensions are an accepted and crucial component for trucks and truckers the world over.
68 Shock absorbers
In the early part of the 20th century, leaf-spring suspensions handled most road vibrations transmitted up into a vehicle frame. In 1933, Monroe introduced the first hydraulic shock absorber – to the eternal gratitude of many a driver’s backside.
67 Diesel particulate filter
Although most of the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations over the past decade have focused on reducing oxides of nitrogen (NOx), the 2007 regulations also mandated cuts in particulate matter. The universal solution is the diesel particulate filter, which replaced the muffler on post-2006 engines. Among the drawbacks were the need, depending on application, to inject hot fuel occasionally into the DPF in order to regenerate the filter, and the filters require cleaning every few hundred thousand miles.
66 Route planning systems
For many years, route planning involved calculators, rulers and pencils. The rise of computers made calculating distances on a map fairly simple, but what works for cars doesn’t necessary work for trucks due to weight limits and clearance heights. Systems that could plan static routes in advance have been around for quite some time. Integrating the truck-specific routes with GPS today allows route planning to be dynamic.
65 Auxiliary power units
Although available since the 1980s, diesel-powered generators to provide cab comfort and “hotel load” power to run appliances truly took off as diesel prices soared in the 2000s. Before then, it was mostly owner-operators who bought them, but as diesel prices marched toward $5 a gallon, fleet operations increasingly saw the value in replacing an idling truck engine with an operating APU.
64 Document imaging
As the technology for both digital storage and digital imaging have improved and become cheaper in the past decade or so, express document delivery and fax machines have gradually given way to document imaging. Better quality than a fax and cheaper to store and manage than mounds of paper, images also have the advantage of being manageable in a workflow system, reducing the opportunity for error.
63 Fax machine
Although the technology seems quaint and old-fashioned today, the fax machine was a major leap in the communications among shippers, brokers and carriers in the 1980s. The fax machine allowed parties to almost instantly transmit contracts and changes to contracts, which had become important after deregulation. The impact was most profound in the area of spot-market freight.
62 ATA’s Technology & Maintenance Council
An influential platform for cooperation among fleets and truck and component manufacturers, the Technology & Maintenance Council was established by the American Trucking Associations in 1956. It issues recommendations for maintenance practices and management.
61 55 mph speed limit
In response to the 1973 oil crisis, the National Maximum Speed Law – a provision in the 1974 Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act – established a nationwide maximum speed limit of 55 mph in an effort to reduce fuel consumption. The new speed limit greatly impacted trucking productivity and led to the rise of the Citizen’s Band radio craze by truck drivers so they could warn one another of local law enforcement. In 1987, the speed limit was raised to 65 mph for rural interstate highway segments as part of the 1987 Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act.
60 Electronic stability control
Although truck makers incorporated more and more safety technologies through the years, all were focused on either protecting the driver in the event of an accident or warning the driver of an impending crash. Electronic stability control, which Bendix and ArvinMeritor began to offer versions of in the middle of the last decade, allowed the truck to detect impending rollovers and similar situations and to manage braking applications accordingly to prevent disasters. Today, stability control forms the backbone of new comprehensive crash avoidance systems that incorporate radar, cruise control and other technologies.
59 Twin countershaft transmission
Pioneered by Eaton in the early 1960s, the twin countershaft transmission was shorter than previous technology, allowing for a better fit into a cabover chassis, which was important at the time. But the real breakthrough was that the transmission was stronger and weighed less.
58 Sealed beam and halogen lighting
Early cars and trucks featured a variety of headlamps; oil was an early technology that faded quickly. Electric lights were optional equipment – but underpowered and unreliable. Most early manufacturers offered acetylene lamps, which were heavy and had water and calcium carbide chambers that had to be refilled. Sealed beam headlights – wholly integrated lights, completely protected from the elements – first appeared in 1940 and quickly became mandatory equipment for all new cars and trucks sold in the United States. Halogen lamps appeared in 1962 in Europe and were banned in the United States until 1983 despite having superior light output compared to power consumption.
57 Hydraulic brakes
It took a surprisingly long time for brake technology to catch up to powertrain technology. Although drum and even disc brakes were in use by 1920, they typically relied solely on human strength for their application. In 1929, an engineer named Malcom Lougheed (who would go on to co-found the Lockheed Corp. with his brother) used a system of cylinders and lines to apply brakes hydraulically that power-assisted brakes began to gain popularity. Dodge was the first truck builder to adopt hydraulic brakes, as early as 1927.
56 SmartWay Transport Partnership
Few industries regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency would label the relationship a partnership, but in 2004, EPA and companies and organizations in the freight sector formed the SmartWay Transport Partnership, a voluntary initiative aimed at reducing pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions by improving fuel efficiency. SmartWay promoted certain verified technologies and helped small operators obtain financing to buy them. Although SmartWay remains voluntary, the California Air Resources Board has adopted certain SmartWay standards as regulatory mandates. And EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have used much of what SmartWay has developed in recent years to propose fuel efficiency standards for heavy trucks.
55 Traffic signal lights
We take them for granted today, but can you imagine life without traffic signal lights? Each intersection would require either a four-way or two-way stop sign, slowing traffic significantly. By some accounts, the electric signal light was the brainchild of a Salt Lake City police officer in 1912. Before the decade was up, cities across the country had begun installing red-green systems, and then the familiar red-yellow-green system we have today.
54 Engine exhaust brakes
As legend has it, Clessie L. Cummins once narrowly escaped certain death on a steep downhill grade while testing the diesel engine that bears his name. In 1957, he hit upon the idea of the engine exhaust brake, for which he received a patent. Cummins Engine Co. passed on the chance to commercialize the engine brake first, but Jacobs Manufacturing Co. jumped at the opportunity and in 1961 began producing Clessie Cummins’ engine brake. Today, the Jake Brake is synonymous with the engine brake. Despite the clear benefits for both safety and reduced wear on brakes, the engine brake has detractors owing to its loud, rumbling noise. Many municipalities across the country have banned its use within their jurisdictions.
53 First expressway
Called at the time a “Super Highway,” the 160.8-mile Pennsylvania Turnpike connects Pittsburgh to Harrisburg.
It has taken the concept of aerodynamics a surprisingly long time to catch on in the trucking industry. Partly this was due to image: Many truckers grew to identify with long-nosed slab-faced conventional tractors as their preferred truck. Additionally, for most of the past century, fuel prices were low enough that aerodynamics simply weren’t a priority. That began to change in the 1980s as more streamlined trucks began to appear on the highway, spurred on by rising fuel prices and emissions controls. Today, aerodynamics is one of the fastest-growing areas of research and development in truck – and now trailer – design, holding great promise for increased fuel economy in the future.
51 Hybrid drivetrains
Electric-diesel (or gas) hybrid drivetrains appeared in the late 1990s. The concept wasn’t new, but thanks to rapid advances in electronics and battery technology, hybrids became practical alternatives. To date, hybrid drivetrains command a premium price but deliver substantial fuel savings, particularly for fleets that experience frequent stops or use power takeoff devices. Some manufacturers believe the technology can be adapted to long-haul fleets. With fuel prices climbing again, it is likely that hybrid technology will become increasingly important in the near future.
50 Driver drug testing
Established in 1989, urine sample drug testing began for commercial truck drivers during the pre-employment process, DOT physicals and random tests and “reasonable suspicion” situations.
49 Express document delivery
In addition to creating the largest segment of the for-hire trucking industry in terms of revenues, power units and drivers, the advent of express package delivery gave trucking companies the opportunity to expedite their own paperwork — such as proof-of-delivery documents — thereby speeding cash flow. Despite those advantages, few trucking companies used this opportunity because it was so inconvenient for drivers to use standard dropboxes that were off-route. In the late 1980s, however, TripPak began putting dropboxes in truckstops, making it convenient for drivers to return paperwork for billing and driver settlement.
48 Automatic/automated transmissions
Automatic transmissions were introduced in 1954, and today are common in medium-duty equipment. More recently, several suppliers have marketed automated transmissions, which use conventional mechanical transmission hardware but shift automatically, thus reducing driver fatigue and offering improved fuel economy when drivers are less skilled. For over-the-road trucks, however, manual transmissions still dominate.
47 Exhaust gas recirculation technology
Already in use in automobiles, the trucking industry first saw cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) in the diesel engines built after October 2002. By reintroducing cooled exhaust back into the engine, manufacturers were able to lower the emissions of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) as required by the Environmental Protection Agency. Even more aggressive cooled EGR was the primary solution for achieving EPA’s 2007 standards, and EGR is part of the emissions solution today, although most engine makers were able to reduce the amount of EGR as they implemented selective catalytic reduction.
46 The truckstop
Truckstops date back to the 1940s and were a reliable means of diesel fuel supply not available at all filling stations. The development of the Interstate Highway System led to a proliferation of truckstops across the country and soon began catering to drivers’ needs with washing machines, showers, phone banks and restaurants.
45 High-torque rise diesel engines
The advent of low-rpm high-torque rise engines enabled almost constant horsepower between 1200 and 2100 rpm. The first of its kind — the Maxidyne developed by Mack — required less gear shifting and led to transmissions with fewer gears.
44 Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
The Motor Carrier Safety Act of 1999 was the product of a period of unusually intense focus on trucking safety, which was spurred by a combination of aggressive posturing by safety advocates, a major commercial driver’s license scandal in Illinois and a crusade by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) — then head of the House transportation appropriations subcommittee. Among the many changes in motor carrier safety law — some of which are just now being implemented — was the creation of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which was the first full-fledged federal agency devoted exclusively to motor carrier safety. FMCSA came to life on Jan. 1, 2000.
43 Federal gas tax
The Revenue Act of 1932 included an excise tax on gasoline of 1 cent per gallon. In its first full year of implementation, it generated $125 million in tax revenue. The tax was raised to 1.5 cents per gallon in 1940 and has gone up incrementally over the last 79 years. In 1919, Oregon was the first state to enact a gas tax.
42 Enclosed cabs
In the early days, little about the truck was designed for the comfort — or sometimes even basic safety — of the driver. Most were just the same horse wagons with an engine installed. Putting aside keeping out the elements, as trucks became more powerful and faster, it became necessary to create a cab with a roof, windows and windshield.
41 Aluminum chassis/cab tractors
Popularized by Freightliner — an offshoot of the now-defunct Consolidated Freightways — aluminum construction achieved two highly desirable goals: Resistance to corrosion and lower weight for increased payload.
40 American Trucking Associations formed
For nearly 80 years, the American Trucking Associations has been the largest and most powerful organization representing the trucking industry. The association was born in 1933 from the merger of the American Highway Freight Association and the Federal Trucking Associations of America.
When engine makers began using turbocharging in diesels, the result was much greater performance in terms of power, torque characteristics and fuel economy. Cummins offered the first turbocharger on its JT68 and NH series engines in 1955.
38 First transcontinental highway
The brainchild of Indianapolis 500 founder Carl Fisher, the first transcontinental highway — the Lincoln Highway — developed from dirt to concrete over a period of a dozen years beginning in 1913. Linking New York and San Francisco, the route of the Lincoln Highway was a political minefield. Since no real federal highway system existed at the time, the Lincoln Highway initially was created and maintained by the Lincoln Highway Association, which was headed by Fisher and linked local authorities all along the route.
37 North American Free Trade Agreement
Passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement opened up new trade opportunities with U.S. neighbors, primarily in Mexico. In theory, it opened the United States to Mexican carriers, too, but as of March 2011 that has not happened yet.
36 Air conditioning
Given the roads and technology of the day, 10 hours in a truck was a brutal existence for drivers. And that’s not to mention another eight hours sleeping in a truck with no ventilation but perhaps an open window. A truck driver’s existence became immeasurably more comfortable after the introduction in the 1950s of air conditioning in heavy-duty trucks. And by idling the truck, air conditioning helped improve life in off-hours, too.
35 California Air Resources Board
Before there was a federal environmental agency, a 1967 state law combined two agencies to form the California Air Resources Board, more commonly known as CARB. Since then, CARB has led the nation in clean air regulation, and the trucking industry has seen this take several forms, including a California-specific diesel fuel formulation, aggressive anti-idling rules and phaseouts of older engines. More recently, CARB has begun to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, resulting in new mandates for fuel-saving technologies. The Environmental Protection Agency and other states frequently follow CARB’s lead.
34 V-8 engine
Ford didn’t invent the V-8 gas engine. Cadillac, for example, had been offering a V-8 option since 1914. But until 1933, V-8s were expensive optional equipment for high-powered luxury cars. Ford changed all that with the introduction of its dependable, reliable and affordable V-8. Truck owners loved the extra power, and the V-8 quickly became the primary gasoline engine for heavy-duty gasoline-powered trucks — and remains so today.
33 Load boards
Load boards date back to the 1920s, when fleet managers would call in to load bureaus to see if a backhaul was available. In 1978, The DAT (Dial-A-Truck) Network established the first freight posting service at a truckstop in Portland, Ore. The Internet helped make load boards more useful by providing instant access and giving brokers and carriers the ability to search for and sort loads and trucks.
32 1938 Hours-of-service regulations
As authorized by Congress a couple of years earlier, the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1938 issued regulations governing truck drivers’ driving and on-duty time as well as mandatory rest periods. Although the rules were routinely ignored and paper logs proved woefully inadequate for compliance, the regulations represented a major change in how many truck operations did business. But even operations that tried to follow the rules had some loopholes at their disposal, including the ability for drivers to extend their work days several hours by going on and off the clock. The rules remained basically unchanged for more than 65 years.
Today we call it intermodal, but until a few decades ago, the concept of putting semi-trailers on railroad flatcars was known simply as piggybacking. The idea goes back to the 1920s when there was good rail service and roads in cities but intercity highway travel was dicey. Even after development of a good highway network, piggybacking was a way to lower costs. The practice of transporting trailers on flatbed railcars remains today, although containers have become a far more common intermodal practice.
By the early 1950s, Malcolm McLean had built the trucking company he co-founded into one of the nation’s largest when he began working on a novel idea — transporting trailers on ships. The first efforts proved too cumbersome because the trailer chassis took up too much valuable cargo space. In 1956, McLean found the solution — separate the box from the chassis, ship it and remarry the box to a chassis on the other end. On April 26, 1956, the SS Ideal-X made its maiden voyage from New Jersey to Texas hauling 58 containers. Before long, McLean’s idea fundamentally changed shipping and logistics.
29 Environmental Protection Agency
Few agencies — certainly outside of the Department of Transportation — have had as much impact on trucking as the Environmental Protection Agency. Formed in 1970, EPA has issued regulations and implemented various laws over the past 40 years that have directly affected engine and truck design. And because EPA deals with public health issues, its obligation to justify regulations on a cost/benefit basis like most other agencies is limited.
The concept of telematics goes back decades as truck makers and fleets used various mechanical devices and then electronic tachographs to monitor vehicle dynamics.
At about the same time fleets began using mobile communications systems, they also were starting to buy trucks that had electronics incorporated into their engines and eventually other vehicle systems. As vehicle electronics have become more pervasive and mobile communications costs have come down, fleets increasingly have embraced telematics — the remote monitoring of vehicle condition. Truck and engine makers are just now beginning to explore the possibilities in the areas of rapid scheduling of repairs and predictive maintenance.
27 Transportation management systems
As far back as the early 1970s, leading fleets were using computer software that was designed for dispatching trucks. As computers became common, more powerful and less expensive in the 1980s, numerous companies began to develop trucking management solutions that integrated related functions such as dispatch, billing, accounting, payroll and so on. Today’s highly sophisticated information systems allow carriers to link various independent systems, such as routing, fuel management and costing, to provide managers vital data in real time. Managing today’s freight would be inconceivable without these systems.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the federal government sought to tighten standards for vehicle size and weight and for commercial driver’s licenses, just to name a few. But the feds lacked a systematic way to identify carriers for scrutiny. So they devised a system that became known as SafeStat, which allowed compliance personnel to look at data from crashes and vehicle and driver inspections in a way to target enforcement toward those carriers most in need of it.
25 The age of the Teamsters
Teamsters long had represented truck drivers, who had replaced the horse drivers from whom the union’s name was derived. But it took the force of a single individual to marshal the resources of this union into a formidable force.
Elected in 1958, Jimmy Hoffa organized truck drivers and other workers into one of the country’s most powerful labor unions. Some of their victories included a successful strike in 1967 and negotiation of a Master Freight Agreement that raised labor costs for unionized trucking companies by 33 percent. The agreement came the year after Hoffa, their former powerful leader, mysteriously vanished, never to be found — so far.
Such was the Teamsters’ power that by 1978 — with a Democrat in the White House and Democrats controlling Congress — CCJ declared that the Teamsters would control America. As it turns out, however, the late 1970s would be the height of the Teamsters’ power. In 1980, two events occurred that would spell the beginning of the end of the Teamsters’ dominance. The first was the election of Ronald Reagan; since then, Republicans have controlled the White House or at least one House of Congress for all but four years. But the biggest change of all was congressional passage of trucking deregulation, which ultimately would lead to more competition, a boom in union-resistant truckload carriers and downward pressure on costs, including wages and benefits. Very few major carriers today are unionized, one of the largest being troubled LTL giant YRC.
24 In-cab messaging
Early versions of in-cab messaging allowed offices and drivers to stay in constant communication. Drivers could let operations managers know of delivery delays, and dispatchers more easily could keep drivers up-to-date. In-cab messaging helped to eliminate the common errors caused by miscommunications with drivers. It also provided verification that messages were received and read by drivers. Over the years, technology suppliers have created features to standardize and automate routine communications between the office and cab. The early use of free-form messaging has evolved to simple keystrokes, called macros, and electronic forms that pop up for drivers to complete at pre-planned locations. In 2010, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration banned texting by commercial drivers. Technology suppliers already were ahead of this safety issue by incorporating features such as text-to-voice and preventing the use of in-cab devices by locking the screen and keypad while the vehicle is in motion.
23 Compliance Safety Accountability program
By the mid-2000s, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recognized that SafeStat (CCJ Milestone No. 26) — the data-driven system it used to target carriers for compliance reviews — had some drawbacks. Given the agency’s limited resources, it had designed SafeStat to identify the riskiest operators — those with repeated out-of-service conditions. At first, this wasn’t a big problem since FMCSA and the states had the resources to audit only a tiny fraction of all carriers each year. With information systems improving, the agency set out to develop a system that would allow it to reach more carriers and do so before their poor safety management became critical. Over a period of six years, FMCSA developed what is now known as the Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) program, which is intended to give compliance personnel early insight into specific problem areas and allow for targeted intervention on those problems. Months before FMCSA officially launched the program in December 2010, many carriers had begun to reshape their compliance strategies — including adoption of electronic onboard recorders to monitor hours of service — in order to look better under CSA.
22 Commercial driver’s license
Throughout most of the last century, it was up to individual states to decide who was qualified to drive a truck. In fact, in many states, anyone who held a valid automobile driver’s license could drive a tractor-trailer or bus legally. Even in many of the states that did have a classified licensing system, there was no requirement for a skills test in a representative vehicle. Nor was there any system to prevent driver’s licenses from more than one state and hide or spread convictions among several driving records and continue to drive. All of that changed as a result of the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986, which was signed into law on Oct. 27, 1986. Rulemaking and implementation took several years, but CDLs have been required for certain commercial motor vehicles since April 1, 1992. The regulations established three classes of CDL and several categories of endorsements that are required for certain driving activities. The CDL has been a work in progress. Well into the last decade, it was not unusual to find drivers who had managed to obtain multiple CDLs.
21 Electronic logs
As mechanical tachographs gave way to electronic recording of vehicle status in the 1960s and 1970s, fleets began to see that computer technology someday would replace paper logs for safety compliance. In part due to a government push to reduce paperwork burdens, by the early 1980s many experts thought electronic logs were just around the corner. The first big step came in 1985 when Frito-Lay obtained an exemption for electronic logs, and three years later, the Federal Highway Administration issued regulations allowing automatic onboard recording devices. A decade later, it was clear that satellite positioning data could be used as well. In 2010, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued a rule that would require, effective in 2012, the worst log offenders to use electronic onboard recorders (EOBRs). More recently, FMCSA has proposed mandating EOBRs for all interstate carriers that use records of duty status to manage compliance.
20 Pneumatic tires
A hundred years ago, the typical truck tire was solid. Pneumatic tires — tires inflated by air — already existed and were the dominant technology used for automobiles. Pneumatics generally weren’t thought durable enough for commercial trucks, but that decision came with some significant limitations. “High speed and solid tires are not compatible,” CCJ told readers in June 1911. Several tire makers showed that pneumatic tires could work on trucks, but it wasn’t until Goodyear began using the technology on trips between Boston and Akron that the industry began to take pneumatics quite seriously. Once truck owners accepted the durability and reliability of pneumatic tires, they recognized some big advantages, including lower weight and a smoother ride. Soon, the pneumatic tire was the standard, and it has been ever since.
19 Electronic control modules
Until the late 1980s, a diesel engine’s performance was determined strictly by mechanical considerations — the design of the block, components and related systems and any physical adjustments that could be made to them. But the computer revolution was taking hold, and in 1987, Detroit Diesel introduced the Series 60, which was the first production engine with integrated electronic controls as a standard feature. Electronic control modules (ECMs) — also called electronic control units — represented a major advancement in the way fuel delivery is controlled to diesel engines by measuring and modifying key engine parameters in an effort to maximize fuel efficiency, reduce emissions or achieve other desired goals. But ECMs hardly are limited to engines and are found in the braking system, transmission, air bags and elsewhere on the vehicle. In fact, in the braking system, the ECM is a critical component of advanced applications such as electronic stability control.
18 The Internet
The Internet is so integral to commerce in general that it is hard to find the appropriate place in a ranking of trucking milestones and to begin to catalog the areas in which it is vital. Almost any transaction that occurs today relies on or involves the Internet. Since the Internet “went commercial” in the early 1990s, e-mail has sped communications with customers and suppliers, while websites have freed companies from the need to communicate directly at all. The Internet also has allowed companies to integrate information and data sitting in databases thousands of miles apart.
17 Arab Oil Embargo
Truly a seminal event in the commercial vehicle industry and the nation as a whole, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries — the Arab members of OPEC plus a few other Arab states — imposed an oil embargo on the United States from October 1973 to March 1974 in retaliation for the nation’s military support of Israel. The embargo came at a time when fuel supplies already were tight for other reasons, including a lack of refining capacity.
The ensuing shortages panicked an American society that had not faced motor fuel shortages since World War II 30 years earlier. The event led many fleets into unprecedented energy conservation and suppliers into efforts that would pay off in later years, including a gradual move toward more aerodynamic styling and devices.
One direct consequence of the energy crisis that ensued was the 1974 Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act, which established the 55 mph national speed limit (CCJ Milestone No. 61). Indirectly, the embargo also helped popularize the CB radio (CCJ Milestone No. 75) as a tool for sharing information on fuel availability and speed limit enforcement.
16 Air brakes
At least as important as the ability to move the truck is the ability to stop it. Various technologies were employed in the early days — some as simple as wooden blocks and a lever that was operated by hand. Simple mechanical braking systems quickly became obsolete as both truck weights and truck speeds increased.
The fundamental technology behind today’s braking systems on heavy-duty trucks dates back to the early 1920s when Westinghouse (now part of Bendix) introduced the air brake on heavy-duty vehicles. Over the next couple of decades, air brakes increasingly became popular compared to other technologies, and by the end of the 1940s, air brakes were standard on heavy-duty trucks as they are today.
Although early fleet owners would have embraced freight in both directions, there simply wasn’t a mechanism for it. Then came World War I and the need to conserve fuel and get more utilization out of existing trucks. The estimated 500,000 trucks in use at the time represented 3 million tons a day in unused capacity, CCJ reported in March 1918. All around the nation, states, cities and chambers of commerce rushed to adopt return-loads bureaus and agencies that matched shippers with available truck capacity for intercity hauls. The movement helped boost trucking companies’ profitability and increased the demand for trucks over horses. Freight brokerage — a vital piece of today’s transportation system — was born.
The economic regulation that began in the 1930s covered brokerage as well as motor carriers. But deregulation of trucking opened the door to rapid growth in brokerage opportunities. In addition, following deregulation, the lines between brokers and carriers became fuzzier as many carriers moved to a nonasset model.
14 Cellular phones
For decades, fleet managers relied almost exclusively on “check calls” to gather information on the status of drivers and loads. This meant that either the driver had to make relatively frequent stops to check in, or operations would have to just live with not knowing where its trucks were.
Cellular phones became available commercially in the mid-1980s. Motorola introduced the first handheld cellular phone — the 28-ounce DynaTAC — in 1984. But early units were bulky and expensive, and air time wasn’t cheap, either. So it wasn’t until phones and service plans became much cheaper in the late 1990s that many fleets embraced cell phones.
Over the past few years, however, state and federal authorities have become concerned about driver distraction. Texting now is banned, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is proposing to prohibit commercial motor vehicles from using handheld phones. The agency has said it is considering banning hands-free cell phone use, but most consider that unlikely.
For much of the last century, drivers and lumpers loaded most freight by hand in boxes, cartons and cases. The seeds of motorized material handling go back to 1917 when Clark Equipment Co. introduced the Tructractor, which was the first internal combustion-powered industrial truck. By the 1920s, several equipment manufacturers began marketing industrial trucks, but the idea didn’t catch on immediately — no doubt in part because labor was so cheap during the Great Depression. The need to move large amounts of material quickly during World War II truly showed the productivity benefits of loading entire pallets of freight at a time using the forklift design that we know today.
12 Fifth wheel
It’s a fair question whether you really can consider the fifth wheel as a milestone separate from the semi-trailer. After all, the purpose of the fifth wheel is to link the tractor and the trailer; indeed, trailers existed before Charles H. Martin introduced the Martin Rocking Fifth Wheel in 1915. At the time, the fifth wheel literally was a wheel that moved with the trailer — unlike today’s technology that secures a kingpin. What makes the fifth wheel so important is the ability it gave fleet owners to attach large trailers to tractors easily and safely and the freedom it gave them to switch out trailers.
Without a fifth wheel, the modern distribution system would look quite different as drop-and-hook would not be easy. The semi-trailer increased the capacity of trucks, but it was the fifth wheel that brought the flexibility for drivers to keep moving while receivers unloaded the loads they just delivered.
11 Rise of the owner-operator
Truly independent owner-operators — one-truck motor carriers operating as independent businesses — no doubt were around at the dawn of for-hire trucking. Owner-operators really got a boost in 1957, however, when Congress passed the Trip Lease Bill, which allowed trucking companies to lease equipment and drivers from an entity that did not have Interstate Commerce Commission authority. That meant a driver who owned his own truck could make a living without having to worry about dealing with the hassles of the regulatory environment.
The ICC set out rules for the relationship between motor carriers and owner-operators, but due to serious financial problems independent truckers were facing in the 1970s, the ICC revamped the rules and created what we now call the federal truth-in-leasing regulations. The rules govern disclosures that must be contained in the lease as well as the timeliness of payments, which must be made within 15 days after submission of necessary delivery documents.
After the Motor Carrier Act of 1980 and the deregulation that followed, many owner-operators chose to get their own authority, and some grew into sizeable carriers. And the ranks of owner-operators grew as carriers now had more freedom to explore new business models that relied more heavily on leased operators.
In the early days of trucking, it wasn’t a given that trucks could travel long distances economically. The conventional wisdom was that intercity freight delivery was the domain of railroads, with trucks relegated to making the “last-mile” deliveries to and from rail spurs. As truck reliability and range increased, however, it became apparent that overnight travel was going to be an integral component for any long-haul fleet. As a concept, the sleeper arose fairly early: Packard introduced the concept with the first built-in sleeper in 1917.
By the early 1920s, it was clear that trucks could provide cost-effective and reliable long-haul deliveries – at least as that was defined at the time – and truck owners began to spec sleepers in greater numbers. But these sleepers were extremely spartan: usually just a hard-to-access bunk topped off by a thin mattress. And integrating the sleeper into a truck was still an open question: Some manufacturers placed the sleeper over the cab. One manufacturer decided putting a sleeper under the trailer was the optimal location.
By the late 1930s, sleepers were common enough that the Interstate Commerce Commission incorporated special rules governing them into its new safety regulations. “We shall watch this matter closely and if we see any tendency on the part of the carriers to use sleeper cabs where such use does not appear to be reasonably necessary, steps will be taken to put limits upon this practice,” the ICC said in 1937. And the federal government did take steps to restrict such use in 2005 – 68 years after adopting the regulations and 10 years after the ICC itself disappeared.
9 Trailer refrigeration
In the early days of trucking, the state of the art in truck-trailer refrigeration was a large block of ice, dry ice or a brine tank and perhaps a vent or motor-driven fan to circulate cool air around the load. It was hardly an ideal solution, and it didn’t allow for much refrigeration beyond a local delivery. Drivers carrying refrigerated goods on longer-haul lengths would have to stop at filling stations to re-ice.
Demand for colder temperatures over longer hauls pushed innovations in the refrigerated market. Mechanical refrigerated units emerged in the 1920s, and in the 1930s, trailer manufacturers experimented with body construction and insulation techniques to maintain cold temperatures required to ship produce.
In 1938, trailer refrigeration was revolutionized with the Model A, a mechanical transportation refrigeration unit developed by U.S. Thermal Control, now known as Thermo King. The first unit was bulky and had to be mounted underneath the trailer. In 1940, the company introduced the first front-mounted trailer unit that didn’t reduce trailer capacity.
The significance of transportation refrigeration units at that time was enormous. It extended the range of refrigerated hauls from hundreds of miles to thousands, greatly speeding the delivery of perishable goods and opening up regional produce to new markets from coast to coast.
8 Federal truck size and weight standards
States had set their own standards for truck size and weight since the 1910s, but the patchwork quilt of size and weight regulations had made interstate trips a nightmare for many truck operators. The push for uniform standards among states had gained ground for years. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 set GVW limits for interstate commerce at 73,280 pounds.
By 1982, a number of stubborn states continued to hold the line against 80,000-pound combinations. During this time, the trucking industry increased its lobbying efforts for a federal 80,000-pound standard to boost productivity on the nation’s highways with few demonstrated safety risks.
The size and weight issue was a huge bargaining chip for federal legislators, however, who for years refused to surrender any legislation without getting a major tax increase in return. The House passed a Highway bill in 1982 that included federal truck standards for size and weight, but the bill was contingent on an increase in the gasoline tax.
The Reagan administration was set against any tax increases for highway use in its 1983 budget. The American Trucking Associations expressed disappointment in the president’s decision. In other ways, the Reagan administration had been on board with the trucking industry by pushing for government proposals to increase productivity and relieve business from regulations. Despite this game of political football, the trucking industry would prevail in the end.
The Surface Transportation Act of 1982 set uniform size, weight and width for trucks nationwide (with some grandfathered exceptions) and established the 80,000-pound maximum truck weight for interstate highways. After the legislation, carriers with nationwide operations were able to standardize their equipment rather than assemble a hodgepodge of different equipment specs by geographic region.
7 Motor Carrier Act of 1935
Using a pen that was sent to the White House by the American Trucking Associations, on Aug. 9, 1935, President Roosevelt signed into law the Motor Carrier Act of 1935, “a warrant that may mean a better life or a suffocating death to interstate common and contract carriers,” said CCJ’s editor at the time.
After lengthy legal proceedings, the regulation became the law of the land for motor carriers. To oversee the regulation, the Interstate Commerce Commission immediately created the Bureau of Motor Carriers Division charged with establishing requirements for uniform accounts, records, hours of service, safety of operation and equipment. The ICC greatly restricted new entrants into the trucking industry, virtually eliminating the threat of competition.
With Congress’s blessing, the ICC established uniform tariff rates, requiring motor carriers to file tariffs with the ICC 30 days in advance and allowing protest of rates from other carriers. With the trucking industry facing a number of antitrust lawsuits, the 1948 Reed-Bullwinkle Act allowed for rate bureaus that set collective rates for classes of goods.
Forty-five years after Congress imposed economic regulation on trucking, it reversed that decision with the Motor Carrier Act of 1980.
6 Satellite positioning
Beginning in the late 1980s and accelerating through the 1990s and 2000s, the ability to fix the precise location of trucks and trailers has revolutionized fleet and driver management. The revolution began in 1988 when a startup wireless communications company known as Qualcomm launched a system called OmniTracs, which eliminated the need for a productivity-draining check call and gave dispatchers precise locations that allowed them to plan and execute loads more effectively.
Besides eliminating check calls, the Global Positioning System and other satellite positioning systems have eliminated time-consuming tasks such as calculating state-by-state mileages from driver trip sheets for fuel tax purposes. They also have helped carriers improve customer service by automating the flow of information to customers in a just-in-time shipping environment.
To help fleets manage the volume of tracking information, technology suppliers have developed features such as geofencing to capture exceptions. Geofences are used to create virtual perimeters around physical landmarks, such as customer locations. Tracking systems then can capture arrival and departure events automatically and trigger notifications and alerts when drivers and vehicles are out-of-route, delayed or otherwise not on schedule.
In recent years, satellite tracking also has revolutionized safety and enforcement; the technology can be used to detect speeding, and a growing number of drivers and fleets are using turn-by-turn GPS navigation systems to route vehicles safely.
In 2008, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration ruled that a fleet’s GPS records can be used as supporting documents to verify the accuracy of driver logbooks.
5 2004 Hours-of-service regulations
As bizarre as it may sound, the regulations governing drivers’ hours of service that were issued in 1938 remained largely in place for 65 years, having been changed substantially only once, in 1962. It certainly wasn’t that nobody saw the need to change them; CCJ has been running articles for several decades on the need for hours-of-service reforms. But regulatory proposals always bogged down for various reasons – primarily because “reform” meant going in very different directions depending on whether you were a trucking executive or a safety advocate.
In 1995, Congress finally ordered that new regulations be adopted within a couple of years. Five years later, the new Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration finally issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that was so widely disliked that Congress stepped in to ensure it wasn’t finalized in the waning days of the Clinton administration.
Ultimately, in 2003 FMCSA issued final regulations that took effect on Jan. 4, 2004. The new rule tightened one of the biggest perceived fatigue-causing problems with the old rule: The stretching of drivers’ workdays by going on and off the clock to preserve driving time. The new regulations required drivers to complete their driving within a 14-hour window, starting at the beginning of the workday. FMCSA increased the minimum rest period by two hours but also allowed one more hour of driving during a shift. And recognizing the benefits of an extended break, FMCSA let drivers restart their seven-/eight-day cumulative limits by taking a 34-hour break.
The 2004 rule has been in litigation for more than seven years and underwent a revision in 2005 to restrict the use of sleeper berths to achieve mandatory rest. Further changes are currently on the table. The new rules have made the management of drivers’ time far more important – especially in light of technological and enforcement policy changes that force stricter compliance with the rules. One result has been pressure for greater efficiency at shipping and receiving docks.
The first trucks really were little more than the same wagons that had been used for horses with an engine installed for locomotion. Other than the lack of a horse, the telltale sign that it was a truck was the presence of some type of steering mechanism rather than reins. As trucks became more powerful, however, truck owners began to look for ways to capitalize on the increased power through greater capacity.
The first experiments with trailers generally were small units attached to the rear of straight trucks. These trailers provided some incremental additional capacity, but they also often made maneuvering difficult.
In 1914, Fruehauf made a huge leap forward with a new concept. Instead of having the load carried on a body that was built onto the power unit, the company demonstrated a semi-trailer that attached to the power unit – in this case a modified Model T Ford. With the ability to swivel in turns, a semi-trailer could be longer than a straight truck, thereby increasing the volume and weight that could be hauled.
The semi-trailer was introduced at about the same time as the fifth wheel (CCJ Milestone No. 12). Charles Martin’s original design bolted permanently to the trailer and provided stability for the trailer, even on uneven roads, which, of course, were the norm in the 1910s. Eventually, the industry moved to a different design that involved coupling the trailer and tractor at the fifth wheel using a kingpin. This innovation made the trailer all the more valuable as they easily could be coupled and decoupled to suit the needs of the carrier, shipper and receiver.
Today, it is hard to conceive of a trucking industry based solely on straight trucks. Without the semi-trailer, trucks likely would have remained little more than the pickup-and-delivery partners of the railroads.
3 Deregulation of Trucking
With rate and route controls lifted, the industry flourished through competition
It is impossible to overstate the significance of the Motor Carrier Act of 1980 – the federal law that deregulated the trucking industry. Today’s trucking industry barely resembles that of 30 years ago. Deregulation is not the cause of all of the changes, but it was the catalyst. Without the entrepreneurial freedom and downward pressure on costs that deregulation created, many business practice and technology innovations over the past three decades would not have occurred because limited competition would not have created a major demand for them.
President Carter recognized the landmark significance on the day he signed the legislation. “This is historic legislation. It will remove 45 years of excessive and inflationary government restrictions and red tape. It will have a powerful anti-inflationary effect, reducing consumer costs by as much as $8 billion each year. And by ending wasteful practices, it will conserve annually hundreds of millions of gallons of precious fuel,” Carter said.
It was a broad vision to be sure, but it doesn’t even begin to give a flavor of the transformation of the trucking industry that would follow. Almost immediately, the Interstate Commerce Commission sharply reduced controls on the entry of new carriers and allowed carriers and shippers to agree to contract rates without a regulatory review. Among the direct and indirect effects of deregulation were a steady shift to nonunion labor, the collapse of one-time industry giants, the rise of entrepreneurial truckload carriers and greater demand for freight brokers and independent contractors.
Deregulation certainly is one of the reasons that barely a quarter of CCJ’s Top 100 carriers in 1980 still exist as names on the road, and many of the few survivors are part of larger carrier groups. Consider Consolidated Freightways. In 1980, CF was the nation’s fourth-largest trucking company. In 1983, Con-way was spun off as a nonunion carrier and thrived. After a long decline, CF finally collapsed in 2002, but Con-way, which has diversified beyond less-than-truckload into a significant truckload carrier and player in global logistics, now is the nation’s fourth-largest trucking company.
Several others in the top 10 in 1980 – McLean Trucking, Spector Red Ball Inc. and Pacific Intermountain Express – are long gone. Roadway Express and Yellow Freight System have since merged and are hanging by a thread. Meanwhile, smaller players in 1980 are industry giants today. Schneider Transport (now Schneider National) ranked No. 32; today it is No. 7. And the names Swift, J.B. Hunt, Landstar, Werner, U.S. Xpress, Crete, C.R. England and Prime – all among the 20 largest carriers – were nowhere to be found in the CCJ Top 100 in 1980.
2 The Diesel Engine
By greatly reducing operating costs for heavy hauls, diesel secured trucking’s dominance
The dawn of the diesel engine in the trucking industry represented a critical turning point for fleets, who in the throes of the Great Depression were offered an affordable and highly more efficient engine choice capable of lowering their fuel costs tenfold.
The diesel engine – sometimes referred to as a “compression ignition” engine – was patented in 1893 by German engineer Rudolf Diesel. By 1897, Diesel had a working prototype. By the end of 1898, Diesel was a millionaire, based on the fact that his new design was approximately 75 percent thermodynamically efficient, compared to steam engines, which were only 10 percent efficient.
Initially, diesel engines were large, cumbersome designs, best suited for industrial and marine applications, with gasoline engines coming to dominate the early automotive and trucking industries.
But diesel had several factors going for it as a power source: Diesel fuel at the time was considerably cheaper than gasoline. Additionally, diesel engines provided better low-end torque and were more durable than gasoline engines – all of which combined gave diesel a clear advantage in terms of overall cost of ownership for truck operators.
By the late 1920s, Indiana engineer Clessie Cummins had begun serious development of a highway-class diesel engine. In 1929, Cummins drove a Packard limousine fitted with a diesel engine from Columbus, Ind., to New York City, using only $1.39 in fuel, instantly setting the stage for a diesel truck engine market.
In 1933, the first Cummins truck diesel engine entered the market and proved to be an instant success story. It wasn’t long before other engine manufacturers were developing their own diesel engines. By 1940, Cummins felt the durability and efficiency of its engines were sufficiently advanced to offer a then-unheard-of 100,000-mile warranty, further solidifying the diesel’s reputation in the minds of fleet managers across the country.
Today, the diesel engine is synonymous with the trucking industry – although the public perception has not always been a flattering one. Today’s high-tech diesel engines are engineering marvels, delivering unprecedented power, performance and fuel economy while routinely running in excess of 1 million highway miles during their working lives. Recent federally-mandated emissions controls have placed modern diesels among the cleanest engines on the planet and ensuring their place in trucking applications well into the 21st century.
Were today’s fleet owners limited to gasoline power to haul freight, the operating costs could be so high that rail and other modes of transportation would be far more competitive. Indeed, the trucking industry probably would not have achieved the dominance it enjoys today.
1 The Interstate Highway
President Eisenhower’s military experiences laid the groundwork for ‘broader ribbons across the land’
Use whatever technology you want on a truck – a more powerful engine, a bigger-capacity trailer or a highly-sophisticated telematics and navigation system – and none of it will get you from Point A to Point B any faster unless the infrastructure allows it. By the middle of the last century, there were numerous expressways that allowed free-flow of traffic for hundreds of miles. But ultimately, those highways would end, feeding into roads that were less efficient. A national network of important roads had developed, but they almost always were routed through towns with stop signs, traffic lights and local congestion.
On June 29, 1956, the transportation industry was changed forever when President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, a $33.5 billion road-building program, setting in motion what was dubbed “the greatest public works program in the history of the world.” The legislation authorized the Interstate Highway System, a 42,500-mile network of highways connecting most major cities with populations of at least 50,000.
The legislation also included the Highway Revenue Act of 1956, which designated that revenue from highway user taxes be set aside for highway purposes and established the Highway Trust Fund to finance 90 percent of the construction.
Although the majority of the construction funding was provided by the federal government, actual road construction was carried out by individual state transportation agencies under authorization of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1916, the first-ever piece of highway funding legislation signed into law by President Wilson (CCJ Milestone No. 83).
Today, the Interstate Highway System stretches 46,876 miles at a total cost of $128.9 billion. The system includes some sections of highways and turnpikes that pre-dated the 1956 legislation, including the Pennsylvania Turnpike (CCJ Milestone No. 53) which was completed in 1940 and is today part of I-76.
Demonstrating the need for better roads
Although the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 authorized the funding for construction, the genesis of the Interstate Highway System dates back to 1919, when Eisenhower – then a young lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army – took part in a well-publicized military convoy from Washington to San Francisco carrying the message of “motor truck reliability, the feasibility of highway haulage on a big scale and the necessity of good roads,” according to the August 1919 issue of CCJ. Convoy equipment included kitchen trailers, a pontoon for floating trucks across rivers and streams and a “Militor” for hauling the trucks over steep grades. Over the course of the 62-day trip, Eisenhower recognized how valuable better highways would be for both the military and interstate commerce.
The first step in this direction came just two years later when Congress passed the Second Federal Aid Highway Act, which increased highway funding and called on states to develop a system of intercounty and interstate roads. In 1922, General John Pershing provided to the Secretary of War a map identifying 56,000 miles of highways considered important for defense. The plan was greeted with much interest, but little came of it.
In 1939, the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads, the forerunner to today’s Federal Highway Administration, submitted a report to Congress titled Toll Roads and Free Roads, which laid the foundation for an Interstate system made of free roads rather than toll highways.
The importance of a national highway system was again highlighted during Eisenhower’s experiences during World War II where Allied trucks played a huge role in supporting advancing troops. Perhaps the best example of truck reliability and performance was the truck’s vital role to supply troops advancing through France after the French railroad systems were destroyed prior to D-Day. “From the Normandy Beachhead up to the St. Lo front we are almost entirely dependent upon truck transport – the area west of Carentan has been flooded by the Germans, leaving but few roads for supply, which places a premium upon the maximum load per truck to reduce congestion,” said Lt. General Brehon Somervell in the September 1944 issue of CCJ.
Germany’s autobahn network also provided the highly mechanized Allied forces with reliable supply routes as Allied troops advanced into Germany. Reflecting on his experience in World War II, Eisenhower later said, “after seeing the autobahns of modern Germany and knowing the asset those highways were to the Germans, I decided, as President, to put an emphasis on that kind of roadbuilding…The old  convoy had started me thinking about good, two-lane highways, but Germany had made me see the wisdom of broader ribbons across the land.”
Today, the productivity benefits provided by the Interstate Highway System to the trucking industry – and, in turn, to the entire economy – are almost impossible to calculate. For a given completed segment of the Interstate Highway System, a driver could now cover 500 miles in a 10-hour shift rather than 300. Routes that required 30 percent of travel in low gears now could be do