History of Branch Motor Express-Part 2

An advertisement for Branch in 1938 from Co-ordinated Rate Guide.

In Part One of the history of the company much of the historical research centered around the Pennsylvania-based Branch Storage Company. The company in the 1920’s and 1930’s had become a trucking business specializing the in movement of fabric and related goods for the clothing industry in southeast Pennsylvania and New York City. The advertisement above is from a 1938 edition of Co-Ordinated Rate Guide and shows the addresses of Branch Storage Co. terminals operated at the time.

During the same period of time Meyer J. Butensky was busy growing his own delivery route for the same industry in New York City. Although not much information can be found about his early business, we do know that during the Depression he bought the Pennsylvania company and merged it into his own business. By that time the company was known as Branch Motor Express and it is at this point we continue with the history.

By 1940 the company had grown to 245 employees, 71 trucks and tractors and had assets of $280,038. Headquarters for the firm was located at 126 West 19th Street in New York City. It was during this period that Transportation Company of New York was assembling a plan to combine ownership of many small and regional trucking companies into one large conglomerate along the East Coast. Branch was one of the companies that were planned for acquisition. Among the other trucking companies involved were the same ones that would merge together just a few years later to become Associated Transport, Inc. The plan to take over a vast number of common carriers in 1940 was not acceptable to the Interstate Commerce Commission, who declined the application. Branch would remain an independent company.

During World War II industrial plants and other buildings were used for much different uses because of the war effort and not being used for civilian production. For instance, Branch had been using a former Seldon-Hahn factory in Allentown, Pa for a freight terminal. As business grew so did the need for larger quarters, but during war time rationing there were problems in the idea of construction of a new freight terminal. It was announced in May 1943 that Branch Motor Express would lease the former Empire Ballroom in Allentown for a freight terminal. Constructed in 1921 by the Lehigh Valley Auto Trades Association, the Empire Ballroom had been used for auto shows, sporting events, and had even been a roller skating rink , a supermarket and a textile factory. After renovation it would become a freight terminal. It was still being used by Branch decades later in the 1960s!

After the war ended, a tremendous growth era for common carriers was about to emerge as companies like Branch wanted to serve larger areas.

The only way to expand would be to get the ICC to go along with a merger, or purchase of another trucking company. If you could find a troubled carrier in an area adjacent to your own, then maybe the ICC would agree. Such was the case with Branch and one of their first acquisitions.

Murdoch & Hatch Motor Transport, Inc. (M&H) was a money-losing carrier that had already been approved by the ICC to be purchased by A.B.&C. Motor TransportationCo. Inc. M&H had been under financial distress as far back as 1953 from a labor dispute and a disastrous flood in New England in 1955. A.B.&C. had leased M&H for about 19 months berween November 1955 and June 15, 1957. The ICC had approved the purchase on October 10, 1956 but A.B.& C. was declared bankrupt in December 1956 and since the purchase with the troubled carrier was never consummated, the trustees terminated the leased operations. M&H immediately resumed service but had trouble getting running again, so with the blessings of the ICC Branch assumed temporary control on August 19, 1957.

As of Sep 30, 1957 Branch was in sound financial condition, with current assets double current liabilities and a net worth of $1,018,400. For the first nine months of 1957 operating revenues were $6,643,431 and net income after taxes were $231,196. Its operating revenues averaged about $8,200,000 for each of the two preceding years. With such a strong financial footing, Branch could pull this acquisition off and save the struggling M&H.

Murdoch & Hatch operated between Boston, MA, west to North Adams and Springfield, MA, southwest to Hartford and New Haven, CT and south to New Bedford, MA, Providence, RI, New London, CT and New York, NY serving most intermediate points and many off-route points including those in the areas around Boston, Springfield, Hartfort, New Haven and Providence. M&H also had intrastate authority in CT, MA and RI.

Two and a half years later, on January 22, 1960 the ICC gave final approval of the acquisition. ( sources used for majority of this article were Vol 50 ICC Motor Carrier Reports).

While all of this was going on Branch was building new terminals. A 40 door terminal was constructed  on 8 1/2 acres in Reading, PA on Pottsville Pike and a large headquarters terminal at 300 Maspeth Avenue in Brooklyn, NY was built.  It’s interesting about Reading in that as reported on Feb 3, 1955 in the Reading (Pa) Eagle newspaper that the closure of an intersection of 3rd and Rose Streets between Rockland and Berk Streets was necessary to clear the way for construction of the $200,000 terminal. The planned terminal would increase employment by another 75 and would have parking for up to 200 trailers. On April 10, 1959 Branch dedicated a new 50 door terminal in PennsaukenNorth, New Jersey. In Dec 1959 ground was broken for a 58 door terminal in Newark, New Jersey on a 10 acre site.

From the Fitchburg (Mass.) Sentinel Newspaper on Jan 24, 1964 came this news article regarding a management change:

I. Stewart Murdoch if 135 Harvard Street Leominster, Massachusetts, a leading figure in motor transportation, has been promoted to Vice-President if Branch Motor Express. Mr. Murdoch served as general manager of AB & C Motor Transportation for 25 years and joined Branch in 1957, when his former company, Murdoch & Hatch Motor Transport Inc became a part of the Branch organization. Functioning primarily as operating head of the Branch company’s constantly expanding service in New England, he will continue to serve as regional manager of the Branch New England Division.

(The following came from ICC Reports Volume 93 pages 244-260)

Branch started another merger in 1960, this time with a carrier to give much needed routes to the growing southern states. On October 26, 1960  Branch made an application with the ICC to control Morgan Trucking Co. Inc. of Greensboro, NC and the ICC granted temporary control on Nov 17. Along with Morgan was Equipment Leasing Co. and Carrier Service Co. The leasing company owned 2 trucks, 22 tractors and 66 trailers that were leased to Morgan and Carrier Service maintained the fleet.

Once word got out about Branch wanting to extend operations to the south, many carriers protested the application. Among those carriers were Akers Motor Lines, Carolina Freight Carriers, Central Motor Lines, and Johnson Motor Lines. All of these carriers had been in direct competition with Morgan Trucking Company and like Morgan, were all headquartered in North Carolina. When the ICC hearing was held to consider the Branch-Morgan merger, many more carriers with operations up and down the Eastern Seaboard protested the application, including, Hemingway Transport, McLean Trucking, Smith’s Transfer Corp, Wilson Trucking Corp, Estes Express Lines, Old Dominion Freight Line and others.

The operating authority of Morgan was three routes:

1) Between points within 5 miles of and including Greensboro, NC and Baltimore, MD, York, PA and points within 20 miles of and including Philadelphia, PA

2) Between points in NC within 30 miles of and including Greensboro, NC and Kingsport, TN; Baltimore, MD; York, PA; Newark, NJ; New York, NY and points in VA, MD, NC, SC and the Disrrict of Columbia.

3) from Richmond, VA and Norfolk, VA points within 15 miles of and including Frederick, MD; Baltimore, MD points in Montgomery County, MD; points in Mercer and Gloucester Counties, NJ; Nutley and Sewaren, NJ to points in Rockingham County, NC. (It should be noted that when Branch acquired Morgan, there was only routes through Virginia between Greensboro, NC and Baltimore, MD. Branch never had terminals in Virginia)

Research in city directories and old telephone books have revealed the addresses of some Morgan Trucking terminals:

Paterson, NJ 900 Grove Street (1946 New York, NY phone directory)

Greensboro, NC 5316 Winston Salem Rd (1962 Greensboro, NC phone directory)

Jersey City, NJ 166 15th St (1952 Brooklyn, NY City Directory)

Final approval came from the ICC on Nov 6, 1963 and Branch acquired Morgan Trucking Company. The company was not just a  northern carrier anymore, they were down South now!

after the acquisition Branch Motor Express had terminals in the following locations:

Massacusetts- Boston, Fall River, Framingham, Leominster, New Bedford, Springfield, Worcester, Holyoke

Rhode Island- Providence

Connecticutt- New Haven

New York- Brooklyn, New York

Pennsylvania- Allentown, Philadelphia, Reading

Maryland- Baltimore

New Jersey- Newark, Pennsauken

North Carolina- Charlotte, Greensboro

South Carolina- Cheraw, Columbia, Greenville, Greer

Map of routes and terminal locations for Branch Motor Express Company after assuming control of Morgan Trucking Company Of Greensboro, NC around 1960. This would have been before moving to a 40 door breakbulk terminal on Patterson Street since the Greensboro address is listed as being on Winston Salem Road, which was the location of the Morgan Trucking terminal. ( Ad courtesy of Stan Houghton)

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