A history worth recounting
Jul 1, 2012 12:00 PM, By Charles E Wilson
IT'S BEEN said that a newspaper is the first rough draft of history. The same can be said for industry magazines like Bulk Transporter, which has been covering the tank truck industry for the better part of a century.
The publication that became Bulk Transporter was launched 75 years ago in July 1937 to cover the new and growing petroleum transportation business sector. At the time, it was called The Petroleum Transporter.
C Austin Sutherland, the first editor of the magazine, introduced it as follows:
“The Petroleum Transporter is the only medium of its kind covering the entire national field of petroleum transportation by motor carrier. It fills a long felt want in carrying its message direct to the operators of thousands of transport units — to the thousands of jobbers, refiners and manufacturers who are using, and are part of one of the latest developments in the oil industry today — the motor transportation of petroleum products.”
The magazine that has covered the tank truck industry now for 75 years has much in common with the industry with which it has been so intertwined. The Petroleum Transporter began as a small family business in Omaha, Nebraska.
Like so many family tank truck carrier and supplier companies, the family magazine grew and was then sold to a larger family-run company and then later to an even larger company that today publishes nearly 100 magazines. The focus through growth and adapting to changing marketplaces has remained a commitment to providing reliable and useful service which in the case of the magazine is information.
By the time I joined the magazine in 1981, the name had changed twice (first to Petroleum and Chemical Transporter and then Modern Bulk Transporter). The name changes reflected the steady expansion and diversification of the tank truck industry. The industry remains just as dynamic today.
The dynamic nature of the tank truck industry is both a blessing and a curse. On the upside, we always have plenty to write about. On the downside, we have to scramble to keep up with all the changes that are taking place.
Deregulation probably was the biggest change I saw during more than 30 years of working on the magazine. It brought a flood of new tank truck carriers into the industry and shook up the established order. The industry has never been the same since.
The growth in number of tank truck fleets was great for Bulk Transporter, because fleet profiles have been a core element of our editorial package. They continue to form part of the foundation even today. I learn something from every fleet interview, and no two stories have ever been the same in all the years I have been writing them. That is part of the diverse nature of this business.
Technology has changed constantly across all aspects of this industry. For instance, petroleum tank trailers went from a standard capacity of 4,000 gallons to 9,200 gallons, and the industry moved from carbon steel to aluminum construction.
We've seen manufacturers roll out innovative cargo tanks constructed of materials such as duplex stainless steels and fiberglass reinforced plastics and lined with exotic thermoplastics and sprayed-on epoxy coatings. We've seen tank hardware evolve from top-loading to closed-loop systems.
On the truck side, the equipment has become more sophisticated and driver-friendly. Fuel economy has ebbed and flowed as engine technology and vehicle aerodynamics changed. Safety and security have been enhanced with satellite tracking and communications, antilock braking, and roll stability.
Government regulation and oversight has always played a big role in tank truck operations. For years, the Interstate Commerce Commission literally had the power of life and death over tank truck fleets. The ICC determined which carriers could grow and what they could haul.
Environmental regulations now play a significant role in tank truck operations, and many fleets now have personnel dedicated to environmental issues. The big shift probably started with Superfund, the 1980s law that authorized the Environmental Protection Agency to identify parties responsible for contamination of sites and compel the parties to clean up the sites.
At times it seems like the flood of regulations is about to overwhelm the tank truck industry, but the people who have built this industry are a resilient group. They seem to take everything that comes their way in stride and keep going.
Enjoy this special 75th Anniversary report, because it really is the story of the people and companies that built this industry. This is not the whole story by any means. Going forward, Bulk Transporter will continue to write the history of this industry, one month at a time.
© 2013 Penton Media Inc.