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Is Today's Economic Market Good For Me?

04/27/09

Is Today's Economic Market Good For Me?

  10:52:00 am, Categories: economy , Tags: economy, tough times, trucking industry history

Is Today’s Economic Market Good For Me?

In today’s economic markets, are we being forced to find ways to grow our trucking companies? Or, are we progressively developing strategies that will take us past yet unseen economic fluctuations? I offer two statements to consider. In his epic work The Republic, Plato stated, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” In a satirical comment Thorstein Veblen stated, “Invention is the mother of necessity.” As we look at the advances in the transportation industry I leave it to you to decide which of these is true and how we may interpret today’s economy and its effects on us.

As the world slipped from the 19th to the 20th Century, the railroad industry controlled all freight movement across the United States and Canada. The highway system we now enjoy wasn’t even a dream then. Farmers wishing to send produce from California to the Mid-West or East Coast (not entirely sure why they would want to) would transport their very under-ripe products from their fields to the rail station via a horse-drawn cart. Once at the rail station, the produce would be loaded into iced cars that would need to be re-iced 3-10 times before arriving at the destination rail station. Produce laden trains made multiple stops along the way to pick up additional items, drop items off, switch train assignments and even allow the product on board to be trans-loaded from one car to another. Temperature fluctuation was nearly impossible to control. The produce buyer would then go to the rail station, in a horse-drawn cart, and pick up the now over-ripe and badly abused produce and take to market – transit time from field to table – anywhere from a week to three weeks depending on the train schedule. Farmers said, “We’ve got to decrease the transit time. We’ve got to control the temperatures better.”

In the early 20th Century, gasoline and diesel powered farm trucks, took over the role of the horse drawn carts. This allowed for more volume in less time at the start and end of the trip but had little effect on the ‘over-all’ transit time and therefore, declining quality.

In the 1950s, President Eisenhower envisioned an interstate highway system that would link the country together with roads that were capable of handling extremely heavy equipment, had limited access so higher speeds could be maintained, was built of materials that didn’t break down quickly under the elements of nature, and made travel enjoyable. (Remember, he was a military man and was designing a system that could be used for military transport and, where necessary, make-shift airfields.) At the same time, truck and trailer manufacturers were working to meet the increasing demand for bigger, better and more efficient equipment. Some of us may even remember that first Mack truck we learned to drive with dual sticks, a brownie, and no sleeper. Empty, they had rock-hard leaf springs that would bounce your insides out in just a few miles. Loaded, they groaned slowly up hill and raced wildly down hill. And don’t forget, no air conditioning.

What was the advantage to these ‘innovations?’ Now produce could be loaded at the farm and delivered to market usually on the same trailer – no railroad middle man, no extra hands to slow down delivery or damage fragile products. Transit times drop to 7-10 days across country. This led to better quality on the receiving end, which led to better prices, which led to more orders. But we still had the issue of temperature control for that transit time.

As we continue down the time line, we see the development of reliable mechanically refrigerated trailers and more powerful, safer and easier to drive tractors. By the 1980’s we had better control of the temperature and transit time – which led to near fresh-picked quality, which led to better prices, which led to more orders, etc. It’s not uncommon for team drivers to leave the Salinas Valley in California Friday afternoon and be at market in New York City on Monday morning – that’s three days. In fact, it is expected.

At the beginning of this article I offered you two statements. So the question is, “Is ‘necessity the mother of invention’ or is ‘invention the mother of necessity’?” Did a need to expand produce markets create more efficient ways to get product to market? Or did the advances of technology give rise to expanded produce markets?

Where do we go from here? What does the future hold for the transportation industry? In these economically challenging times we must look for opportunities to create new necessities or new inventions. You pick which statement is true.

Dale Clark
TruckMaster Solution Provider
TruckMaster Your Trucking Company

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