Sarah Lim: Keep on trucking

July 4, 2009 

SARAH LIM

The freight business has always been an important part of the Merced County economy no matter how transportation evolved.

Today, the most common means of freighting in Merced County is trucking.

During the harvesting seasons in this Central Valley county, you can see convoys of tomatoes, bell peppers, and other products parading on highways up and down the state and the sweet smell of onion permeates the Valley air.

We have kept on trucking since the 1920s.

Started in 1920 as a transporter of ice and coal with two trucks, Ted Peters Trucking of Gustine eventually became one of the industry leaders in California.

He worked for Gustine founder Henry Miller and then went into the trucking business. Peters was a pioneer in refrigerated trucking.

He had Patchetts in Newman build him a refrigerated truck with the ice bunker inside with a front vent to let air in. Peters hauled 10 tons of butter in this truck from the Gustine Creamery to Los Angeles.

Forrest Freeze, on the other hand, was a pioneer in shipping livestock in containers.

His trucking company began with just one truck in Livingston in 1939. Freeze and his wife Elaine hauled produce picked up from individual farmers from Le Grand to Livingston and trucked it to the markets in Oakland and San Francisco.

In 1949, they bought property on Merced Avenue in Merced and the business moved there.

In the late 1970s, they began container shipping. Dry product and livestock were loaded in containers and trucked to San Francisco to be shipped to Hawaii, Taiwan, and Thailand.

In 1984, Forrest and Elaine retired and sold the business to their son Curtis.

Stephen Leonard was the owner of the Valley Oil Co., Leonard Tank Lines and Valley Aggregates.

When the Mohawk Petroleum Co. began operations, he became the first distributor of its products in Merced and the Valley Oil Co. was organized at this time.

The headquarters of Valley Oil Co. and Leonard Tank Lines were outside the southern city limits of Merced. His service station was on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, just across the street from the Merced County Fairgrounds.

Opie Wallace started his trucking business in Merced with a 1937 Dodge in 1945.

By 1985, he had more than 200 trucks, owned 14 companies and employed between 1,100 and 1,200 employees in several states.

Wallace Trucking began to grow rapidly in 1947 when they went into the home-building business and used their trucks to haul construction materials.

In 1965, the Wallace family established Wallace Transport Corp. with their son, Joel "Bud" Wallace, as vice president and general manager. In 2006, Opie passed away and Bud sold the last company and retired from trucking.

It is this kind of family-owned business that kept Merced County's economy moving through the decades.

For more stories about the transportation history of Merced County, please visit our current exhibit, "Merced on the Move," at the Courthouse Museum. Admission is free.

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