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

Charlotte, and the state of North Carolina, become trucking leaders

Outlaw explains why Charlotte became something of a trucking hub: its convenient location and good roads contributed. Inside and outside of Charlotte, trucking pioneers helped establish North Carolina as a trucking leader.

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

ALLEN TULLOS:
Charlotte has emerged somehow to be a kind of trucking center. Why has that been?
JOHN THOMAS OUTLAW:
I don't think anybody really knows why Charlotte became a trucking area except the advantage in the early stages of the paved highways, because Charlotte was a big city, and of course there was a lot of commerce in and out of there, and therefore the carriers in that area. There was a lot of individuals that bought trucks and started operating. And Charlotte is right in line with Atlanta, Georgia. In your mind's eye, probably you think in terms of going down the East Coast to get to Atlanta, Georgia, but from New York down Charlotte is right in line with it. Then because North Carolina had this advantage of good roads here and these carriers operating, as the other states joined in and tied in with our highways, our carriers then were able to operate very easily into the other states. And I think that in the other states, because they did not have the highways we had, the trucking industry didn't grow as fast. We had already had the experience of moving freight from one state to another, before the others got started. That's just my estimation about it. The man that was really back of this Multi-State Agreement for the southern states was Walter McDonald. He was blind, but a very progressive person. And I remember hearing him tell the story that one time that he was the commissioner of Georgia, he had a funeral to leave Georgia to come to South Carolina, a whole procession, and when they got in South Carolina the Highway Patrol stopped and arrested everybody in the funeral and tied it up. And they got in touch with him, and he in turn got in touch with the South Carolina officials, who got them released for that particular time. But that's how [laughter] independent each state was during those years.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Real interstate traffic, like you say, didn't start to develop until after the War, at least heavily.
JOHN THOMAS OUTLAW:
Not to the point you would recognize it as an outstanding industry. It just grew without hardly being noticed. In fact, it was so slow that the railroads paid no attention to the competition. They wouldn't even admit there was a trucking industry. They could have easily gotten into the trucking business if they'd wanted to, but they just didn't consider it worthwhile.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Were there some early pioneering figures that are worthy of special mention or attention in North and South Carolina?
JOHN THOMAS OUTLAW:
You mean individual persons?
ALLEN TULLOS:
Yes.
JOHN THOMAS OUTLAW:
It depends on how you think of it. I would think every president of this association would have been considered a pioneer, thinking in terms of the industry. By the way, we do have all the pictures and the past presidents out here on the wall. Uncle Johnny Wilkinson was another pioneer of the trucking industry. He was a household mover, and that company has the number one Interstate Commerce authority as far as household movers are concerned. Mr. Charlie Fredrickson's company was the first freight line that was recorded to move freight from Charlotte to Hickory, and I believe they have the number one certificate for the State of North Carolina, intrastate. Certainly Mr. Malcolm McLean would be considered a pioneer. All of these gentlemen that I mentioned started before the thirties or in the thirties. He built a very strong organization. The story is told on him that I had friends tell me about that it was his brother-in-law; Malcolm, when he first started operating, he was operating on such a close margin that he would borrow his credit card to buy fuel from here to New York. I think his had expired for the lack of payment of fuel or something.
ALLEN TULLOS:
And as you say, there must have been a number of people who did try that and had a bad break and just failed.
JOHN THOMAS OUTLAW:
Yes. And finally North Carolina grew to the point that they had enough substantial carriers that it was considered the trucking state as far as the East Coast was concerned, and probably the United States. And I have heard two different Interstate Commerce Commissioners say that North Carolina had more long-line carriers domiciled within this state than any other state in the nation. That is not true today.