FreightWaves Haul of Fame: LTL carrier Red Star Express
The story of Red Star Express began in the 1920s when John Bisgrove, just a boy at the time, “borrowed” his father’s watch, only to immediately swap it, and a hutch of rabbits, for a horse named “Happy.” He then used his horse to go into business for himself, hauling his neighbor’s stove ashes, wood shavings and groceries in upstate New York. Bisgrove was only in the seventh grade.
When he married his high school sweetheart in 1932, he presented her with a bright red Dodge Brothers truck. Red Star Express was born.
At first, Red Star’s routes only served the surrounding areas, including Auburn, Syracuse and New York City. Despite difficult times during the Great Depression, Red Star Express was able to grow quickly, because it carried shipments that were too small to go via railroad, which were only hauling full containers and had restricted schedules.
Bisgrove’s philosophy – “on time and in good shape” – was simple enough, but won many customers over. Between 1932 and 1961, Red Star expanded throughout the Northeast. The less-than-truckload (LTL) carrier opened terminals in Albany, Buffalo, Jamestown, Rochester, Syracuse and Utica, New York as well as North Bergen, New Jersey. By the early 1960s, gross revenues had exceeded $10 million.
Red Star Express also grew through a series of acquisitions, expanding its service area as it went. (During this time the Interstate Commerce Commission, or ICC, had regulatory oversight of the trucking industry. It approved new routes for trucking companies infrequently; it was usually faster and easier to buy another trucking company with a desired route or routes.)
In 1961, Red Star Express acquired John Vogel, Inc., extending its reach into Philadelphia, western New York and western Massachusetts. The acquisition of Brown’s Express in 1964 provided Red Star Express a route from Boston to Albany. The company began serving Canada in 1967; its acquisition of Wallace Transport and routes gave it access to the province of Ontario and it expanded Canadian service to Quebec in 1969 with the purchase of Laurel Transport.
In total, Red Star purchased seven other companies between 1961 and 1979, extending areas of coverage as it went. By 1980, the company had exceeded $100 million in gross revenue; only a few trucking companies reached that revenue level at that time. Red Star Express was also responsible for pioneering the use of “double bottoms” – tandem trailers that soon would become a common sight on interstates throughout the United States.
In 1987, TNT Limited of Sydney, Australia, purchased Red Star Express and it became a part of a worldwide group of transportation companies. It was the sixth trucking company acquired by TNT Limited’s North American group. In 1992, TNT Freightways became a publicly traded company, separate from TNT Limited. TNT Freightways included TNT Bestway, TNT Holland, TNT Dugan, TNT Reddaway, TNT United and of course, TNT Red Star Express.
Following its acquisition, TNT Red Star Express continued to focus on expansion. In 1995, the company constructed a large 94-door terminal in Cumberland, Rhode Island, as well as a terminal in Atlanta. Terminals were also opened servicing both North and South Carolina. That same year, the company invested $14.3 million in new equipment, expanding its fleet to approximately 1,000 pieces of equipment. Revenues were over $200 million.
In 1996, TNT Freighways was purchased by USF, and TNT Red Star Express became USF Red Star Express. It operated under that name until 2004, when a Teamsters strike and steeply declining profit margins led USF to shut down USF Red Star Express.