It Takes a Village


BENJAMIN WRIGHT   (1770-1842)

Considered by many to be the Father of

Civil Engineering in America

The Erie Canal, The Blackstone Canal and the C&O Canal all fall under Mr. Wrights list of accomplishments. I start my article with him because of the following excerpt:

“It is calculated that the expense of transporting on a canal, exclusive of tolls, amounts to ONE CENT a ton per mile, or ONE DOLLAR a ton for one hundred miles, while the usual cost of conveyance by land is ONE DOLLAR and TWENTY FIVE CENTS per hundred weight, or TWENTY FIVE DOLLARS a ton for the same distance. A loaded boat can be towed by one or two horses at the rate of twenty five or thirty miles a day. Canals enable the Farmer, The Mechanic, and the Merchant to convey their commodities to market, and to receive a return at least TWENTY FOUR TIMES CHEAPER than by road.

Canals are advantageous to towns and villages, and to the whole country, by increasing population, augmenting individual aggregate wealth, and extending foreign commerce.

Those who have most carefully and deliberately examined the subject would almost consider it heresy to doubt it, so manifest are the advantages and so obvious the importance to a large fertile section of the country, whose prosperity probably experiences a severer check from the high charges for transportation on tonnage than from any other single cause.”

This was published in an article called “An account of the proposed canal from Worcester to Providence” (1882). Funny thing is it still holds true today, water is still the most cost effective means of transportation as well as the most environmentally sound. Yes the numbers are a bit different today, so are pay checks, price tags and most everything else in the world.

Oddly enough this was not the first time a civilization had this idea, this has been adopted by almost every advanced civilization on our planet from the earliest of records.


Considered to be the Father of

The Semi-Trailer

August “Gus” Charles Fruehauf started a blacksmithing business in the 1890’s in the Detroit area with his family. A long time customer, and lumber tycoon, Fredrick Sibley came to him asking for a trailer he could tow his sail boat up to the lake with behind his Ford, Model T roadster. After building this Gus was often heard to say that this changed his business forever. In 1915 his company placed what was a $28 advertisement in a trade magazine which resulted in $22,000 in sales almost overnight.

There were many set-backs for Gus and family having a couple total loss fires before building their final blacksmith shop out of brick, by the direction of his wife. This shop grew to accommodate up to 60 horses at once. It also brought in more employees including Otto Neumann who became a lifelong business partner for Gus.

By the time of WW1 Fruehauf trailers were very involved in the US Military and did much to support the war efforts.  Gus, along with his business partners and customers helped begin the first Federal Highways program, together with Dwight Eisenhower (then Lt. Colonel) in 1919.

With the election of President Harding and the beginning of the great depression in 1920, Fruehauf Corporation was feeling the pinch; they were carrying much inventory purchased at higher prices for orders that were canceled due to the economic downturn. In come 2 men from England looking for property to build their factory for steel frame casement windows. The sale of 2 ¼ acres of property was the saving grace for the corporation and carried them thru the depression years.

Fruehauf Trailers also became a long time business partner with McLean Trucking co. thru the 1940’s and 50’s. The company was also the “go to” trailer builder for more than 50 years for most domestic trucking companies, vans, reefers, flatbeds, tanks all built by them.

MALCOLM McLEAN (1913-2001)

Considered to be the Father of

Containerized shipping.

Malcolm McLean finished High School in 1935 and like many families of the time there was no money for college, although for him there was enough for him to buy a used truck. Together with his sister and brother they began McLean Trucking, hauling empty tobacco barrels in NC. Malcolm was one of the drivers at this point. This company grew year over year thru hard work and a unique vision for the future.

Malcolm had studied the systems of the Southern Railway and the French Northern Railway in 1926 carrying boxes on vessels. He saw this as an opportunity and decided that the “box” should be the only part of the trailer to go on the vessel and not the chassis; this is how trailer ships were re-tagged as container ships.

In 1956 the company secured a loan to purchase 2 WWII T-2 tankers and retro fit them for freight. The laws of the day would not allow for trucking companies to own vessels for this which opened the door for him to open the Pan-Atlantic Steamship Corporation, later renamed Sea-land Service, Inc. After several months of overseeing the re-fit the SS Ideal X was ready to go.

On April 26, 1956 with 100 invited dignitaries, Longshoreman’s union members and others watching the SS Ideal X was loaded with 58 of his 35 foot “trailer vans” later to be dubbed containers for her inaugural voyage from Port Newark, NJ to the Port of Houston, TX. As you can imagine there were mixed feelings of this from many. At the time Longshoreman loaded everything by hand or machine into the vessels, this would often take much longer and often lose material in the process. Loading by container was 36 times cheaper for businesses. One union member there that day was asked what he thought of this, his reply was “I’d like to sink that son of a bitch.”

Sea-Land grew year over year and finally in 1999 Maersk bought the business and assimilated it into their global trade lanes, in 2006 Maresk dropped the additional name.

You may wonder why I began with such a history lesson. Many say “if you don’t study history you are doomed to repeat it”, well I am saying this time that we NEED TO REPEAT IT.

Transportation companies are faced with a growing driver shortage as well as growing highway issues; manufacturing is faced with growing demand for product at lower cost to market, Rail is faced with older infrastructure and an overwhelming demand for service causing congestion and longer than necessary delivery times. Too many times these services compete against each other and don’t really help the goal, which is to move freight for pay.

Until the 1960’s coastal container shipping was a regular 3rd mode of transportation here in the US. Since then it has decreased to almost zero. Barge freight has increased over 300% so we have not forgotten how to ship on our domestic waterways, we just need to bring back coastal container vessels to compliment rail, barge and truck to make the USA the strongest most efficient transportation country in the world.

There is much debate out there like “building ships here is cost prohibitive”, well that is not true. If we adopt new methods of building similar to the Liberty ships we built during war times then we can reduce the cost and make domestic ship building profitable. Think of all the skilled jobs that would put in our economy, the peripheral business it would grow and the tax dollars to local, state and federal budgets it would produce.

Next you often hear “it is too expensive to crew these with US personnel”, to this I say HOGWASH! We have many internationally acclaimed and prestigious Maritime academies in our country producing qualified candidates to crew these vessels. Unfortunately for them they usually end up living in other countries after graduation. We can employ them here in America with careers instead of transient jobs in other countries.

Then they say “our ports can’t handle this, they are not as good as others in the world”, I would say ^$@%*)!  to that. We have the largest group of port locations, the longest coastline and the longest river system in the world. There are port locations we just need to re-awaken, once that happens the world will be jealous not complaining about our ports. We have the resources, people and knowledge to do this, right now with coastal shipping as it is there is no need for them. Once we get it moving again we will put all of these back to work adding civil, casual and union workers all over the country.

We as a country need to wake up and smell the coffee; our roads are 4.7 TRILLION dollars in the hole! That amount only gets them repaired, not improved! We have a growing population, (estimates are for 2 to 3% annually), that will mean much more commerce on the roads in the very near future. If we do not re-adopt the American Marine Highway system, Change our thinking about transportation and what “needs” to be on the roads, we are in a lot of trouble.

Will it be easy, NO.   Will it be complicated, YES.

Can we do it…….ABSOLUTELY.

As Americans we have encountered difficulties since the beginning of our country. Each and Every time we adapt and overcome these challenges, this makes us the best and strongest country on Earth. How many of you know that close to 90% of us live within 100 miles of navigable waterways? That means much of what we move can go by water and meet trucks or rail for the first / last mile much closer to the origin or destination of the product. If we begin this transition now with some brave forward thinking companies both small and large it will catch on and grow. Doing this now can assist in the growth of our country’s commerce, it won’t fix all the road, rail or other issues, although it will put a pretty good dent in them possibly enough to open our eyes to the final piece we have yet to uncover that makes everything seamless.

This is why I added the history lesson above, you can see that throughout time water transportation has not only been considered the best costing mode of transportation, it has been proved to be such over and over again.

Join me, along with others I am working with to bring this back to the light. There is an old saying that is stronger than “TEAM” and this is what it is going to take to make this work so here goes:


Thank you.