ISU students capture story of Garrett Freightlines

Dec 10th, 2015 | By | Category: Transportation
Submitted illustration This is an artist’s rendition of an old Garrett Freightlines truck on the road in the 1960.

Submitted illustration
This is an artist’s rendition of an old Garrett Freightlines truck on the road in the 1960.

By Michael H. O’Donnell
modonnell@journalnet.com

POCATELLO — At its peak, Garrett Freightlines employed about 1,000 people in Pocatello, and its trucking delivery system spanned from California to Minnesota — the fifth largest freight line in the nation.

It was a trucking empire that had been started in the shadow of Pocatello’s growing railroad presence back in 1913 by brothers Clarence and Oscar Garrett. Using a 1913 REO truck with hard rubber ties, the Garrett brothers transferred luggage and freight for railroad passengers.

Driven by vision and a policy that treated employees like family, the Garrett enterprise grew. Over several decades, it blossomed into a massive trucking operation before deregulation of the industry and hostile takeover attempts finally succeeded in leaving nothing but a landmark sign and the terminal and office buildings on Garrett Way in Pocatello.

Michael O'Donnell/Idaho State Journal Idaho State University professor Alex Bolinger stands in front of the old headquarters for Garrett Freightlines on Garrett Way in Pocatello.

Michael O’Donnell/Idaho State Journal
Idaho State University professor Alex Bolinger stands in front of the old headquarters for Garrett Freightlines on Garrett Way in Pocatello.

The history of the once extended family that was Garrett Freightlines has been captured by an Idaho State University honors class taught by assistant professor of management, Alex Bolinger. The collaborative student effort will be published as a book titled, “Images of America: Garrett Freightlines” and will be on sale next May.

On Monday night, the students involved in the project and Dr. Bolinger provided insight into the undertaking at an event held at Juniper Hills Country Club. Using a round-robin format, students from ISU’s colleges of business and arts and letters as well as the ISU Honors Program explained the process and shared what they had discovered.

“It’s a uniquely American story,” said Master of Business Administration student Doug Chambers. “It’s not only a story of Pocatello. It’s a story of America.”

Chambers grew up in Pocatello after the Garrett empire had shut down in 1985. He said he always thought the giant green and yellow “G” that graces the old Garrett headquarters building on Garrett Way had something to do with the Green Bay Packers.

Like the Packers, Garrett has a long history of community support, but its world was trucking, not football.

Garrett kept up with the growing railroad traffic that had seen Pocatello expand from a village in 1889 to a city four years later. By 1963, Pocatello would be the second largest city in Idaho.

As Southeast Idaho expanded in population, so did Garrett Freightlines. It established its first terminal outside of the Gate City in Salt Lake City with smaller cache points in Mackay and Salmon. In the 1930s, it took 44 hours to haul a load from Pocatello to Salt Lake City because of the rudimentary road system. Interstate trucking was heavily regulated back then and different trucking companies held designated routes with a monopoly for moving freight on those routes.

As Garrett grew, it purchased smaller trucking firms and acquired their routes. Through a series of these acquisitions and mergers, Garrett’s trucking routes extended from Los Angeles to St. Paul, Minnesota by 1963. And the company added new terminals across the country with a total of 67 at the height of its operation.

The massive terminal complex in Pocatello was built on Garrett Way back in 1951 for a total investment of $850,000.

Students providing information at Monday’s open house explained that Garrett Freightlines was an incubator for innovation and wrapped itself in a philosophy of looking out for its employees.

Working with companies such as Cummings, Mack Trucks and Firestone, Garrett helped pioneer the first diesel motors that would make long hauls to California possible and led to longer wear tires that could handle heavy loads. Garrett also pioneered the use of triple-trailers to haul cargo and refrigerated units.

Garrett also worked with IBM to set up the largest computing system west of the Mississippi River to manage its freight business.

But it was the family spirit of the company that provided the glue that held the empire together.

“The stories from employees really brought it home for us,” said ISU business student Travis Pattengale of Livingston, Montana.

Bowling leagues and company picnics were an important part of the mix. Another component was that ideas were welcomed from anyone in the company and anyone could work their way to the top.

Bolinger’s grandfather, Larry Allsberry, was proof.

Allsberry started as a route driver and eventually became president of Garrett Freightlines after Clarence Garrett died in 1967. Bill Wilson was the first president after Garrett’s death, but Allsberry took over in 1974.

By then, deregulation of the industry and moves by even bigger companies to take over Garrett had taken their toll. Investment banker John Moran of the investment firm Dyson-Kissner-Moran managed to secure 78 percent of the stock from Garrett Freightlines’ employees in 1978 and sold the Pocatello company to American Natural Resources.

In 1985, ANR announced it was moving the trucking operation to Salt Lake City, and the trucking terminal in Pocatello closed down.

The student-produced book examines all the stories of Garrett Freightlines as it grew and then faded through photos and interviews. Years of the quarterly company magazine, “Garrett Topics,” captured the culture of safety and concern for employees that dominated the business.

“Garrett took care of its employees,” Chambers said.

Bolinger said the project was a terrific learning experience for all the students involved.

“These students represent the best that ISU has to offer,” Bolinger said about the 16 students who created the book as a class project instead of a final exam.

The book, published by Arcadia Publishing, is available for $23.95, plus shipping, and can be ordered by going to http://commerce.cashnet.com/isugarrettfreights. All profits will go toward an ISU scholarship fund.

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One Comment to “ISU students capture story of Garrett Freightlines”

  1. JOHN WEIR JR. says:

    When I drove for Garrett it was one of the best freight jobs in the industry. I was the youngest driver out of the Vernon terminal in 1978 I was use to 45′ trailers at Coors out of Golden,Co. I’m retired from UPS and living in Phoenix. I was single back then. We layed over at the King 8 in LV. Interesting times.

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