History of Branch Motor Express- Part 3

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In 1978 Branch acquired a terminal in Toledo, Ohio and by 1980 had expanded the maintenance shops into one of the largest in the system.
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From the cover of the 1970 Annual Report Of Branch Industries is this graphic of a typical sleeper road tractor based out of the Greensboro, NC breakbulk terminal.

After the Morgan Trucking Company acquisition just about all future mergers for Branch were westward into the Great Lakes and Midwest areas. With each company that Branch purchased, their system map of routes and terminals expanded into new states, gradually making Branch one of the top twenty-five common carriers in the country.

In May 1963 a 20 door terminal and maintenance shop was opened in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on Frederick Street between Stanton and Blackman Streets. Originally there were 75 employees there.

In June 1963 Branch acquired Rodgers Motor Lines with routes extending from Philadelphia and New York through northeast Pennsylvania and western New York. For the first time in Branch history their trucks could venture into Scranton, Pa, Syracuse, Elmira, Oleander and Buffalo, NY. Team drivers using sleeper cabs were based out of the Greensboro breakbulk terminal for the routes to New York and Buffalo. Tandem axle sleeper cab over engine tractors were only based out of Greensboro and unique to the Branch operation, and were used by the company until 1984.

In March 1964, Branch opened a terminal in Charlotte, NC  at 4027 Joe Street, the company’s 27th.

A quick review of Branch service area should be presented before the next acquisition is discussed. Branch routes extend from Hardeeville, Charleston and Augusta, South Carolina on the south, Buffalo, Rochester, Iswego and Utica, New York on the north, and on the northeast, Boston, Greenfield, North Adams and Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Its’ north-south regular routes through NC, VA, MD, DE and PA are generally bounded in the west by the principal points of Murphy and Asheville, North Carolina; Kingsport, Tennessee; Roanoke and Winchester, Virginia; Hagerstown, Maryland; Chambersburg, Gettysburg, York and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and on the east by Fayetteville and Raleigh, North Carolina and generally by points along US Highway 1 extending from Richmond to Boston including the major cities of Washington, DC, Wilmington, DE, Philadelphia, PA, and Providence, RI. Branch regular routes radiate northward from Philadelphia into the shape of a letter “y”, the center portion of which runs along US Highways 9 and 209 in eastern New York State extending to Albany and Utica and western parts of Connecticutt and Massachusetts.

The next major expansion for the Branch system came in 1969 when Middle Atlantic Transportation Co. Inc. was acquired. It should be presented a short history of Middle Atlantic in a way that may provide insight as to how Branch may have benefited from acquiring this company. Between 1941 and 1949 gross revenue for Middle Atlantic grew from $1 million to $3.8 million a year, net worth increased from $32,000 to $557,000, tractor trailer units operated increased from 67 to 158, and investment in land and buildings increased from $34,000 at the end of 1942 to $248,000 at the end of 1949. During those time periods the company used only owner operators. Approximately 226 truckloads are transported each week between Detriot and Ohio points to points on eastern seaboard. Middle Atlantic had difficulty obtaining west-bound freight and its operations between such points had been unbalanced between 500 to 750 tons every 4 weeks. Middle Atlantic routes extended from Boston, MA westward to Toledo, OH and Detriot, MI and giving Branch terminals in not only those cities but also Worcester, MA, Milford, CT, New Britain, CT, Union, NJ, Pittsburgh, PA, Cleveland, OH, Cincinnati, OH and Dayton, OH.

In 1967 Another 20 doors was added to the Wilkes-Barre terminal and with the close proximity to I-81 the decision was made to consolidate operations of Scranton, PA terminal into Wilkes-Barre. By 1969 there were 128 employees at the enlarged facility and 81 trucks were based there.

Branch became a subsidiary of Branch Industries, Inc. which sold  shares of common stock to the public and was traded on the American Stock Exchange under the symbol BII.

During the 1970s Branch continued to grow and rise into a major trucking company. Motor Freight Corporation of Terre Haute, Indiana was purchased and enabled Branch to continue the westward expansion into Chicago, St. Louis and Omaha. The last big company Branch acquired was Great Lakes Express of Saginaw, Michigan. GLX added routes and terminals throughout Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. From this acquisition, a large breakbulk terminal in Toledo, Ohio became part of Branch in 1978.

During the 1970s the government had been proposing changes to the trucking industry in the form of deregulation. Trucking companies had long been fearing the changes that were being proposed. The operating rights were valuable asset items on their balance sheets, even as those rights were listed as “intangible assets”, which means it’s just a piece of paper and not trucks or trailers that can be sold. Still, that piece of paper was valuable!

The Motor Carrier Act of 1980 took effect on July 1 of that year and turned the trucking industry of the past into unfamaliar ways of doing business. Having to travel between cities on certain routes was a thing of the past, as was the certificate of operating authority’s which had just become worthless! A trucking company could serve any area they wanted to, travel whichever highways they wanted and entire companies hauling truckload freight sprang up. One by one the large less than truckload carriers could not compete against the new truckload companies. The new companies did not require vast numbers of terminals to pick up and deliver local freight.

The 1980 Motor Carrier Act affected Branch very hard just like it did every other LTL carrier. The value of the operating certificates had to be written off which caused the former profitable companies to become money-losing companies. This also caused a problem with loan covenants with banks holding equipment loans and terminal mortgages. Many large trucking companies tried to survive by rapidly expanding to cover larger geographic areas of the country. Some attempted to combine themselves into much larger money losers. Branch did neither, they just tried to survive the best they could, with giving customers the service the company was known for.

The banks called their loans to be paid and Branch could not pay. In August 1984, with assets of $52.1 million and liabilities of $48.5 million, Branch Motor Express Company shut down. Terminals closed and employees lost jobs, including 165 at the Toledo, Ohio terminal, as reported in the Toledo Blade newspaper on August 25, 1984. It was the end of the line for a company with a long history.

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