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FreightWaves Classics: Ross Neely Systems trucks drive across Alabama – and beyond

Starting out

Ross Neely, Sr. was a truck driver. His son, Ross, Jr. was born in Gadsden, Alabama in 1927, and moved to Birmingham with his family four years later. At the age of 16, Ross Neely, Jr. enlisted in the U.S. Navy; he spent 30 months in the Pacific Theater during World War II. After the war, Ross returned to Birmingham and finished high school, where he met and married his late wife. 

Ross drove a truck for his father and delivered newspapers for several years. He bought a 1947 1.5-ton International Harvester for $240 in 1958 and hauled freight between Birmingham and Gadsden, Alabama. Neely’s daily trip grew into one of the area’s largest transportation companies that still bears his name and trademark slogan, “Breathe freely … ship Ross Neely.”  

A Ross Neely Systems trailer displays the company's slogan. 
(Photo: Ross Neely Systems)
A Ross Neely Systems trailer displays the company’s slogan.
(Photo: Ross Neely Systems)

Neely hired his first full-time driver within a few months. He also began expanding the company’s service footprint to include other areas of Alabama. Growth over the next 10-15 years was rapid; by the mid-1970s, Ross Neely Systems, Inc. operated more than 1,200 pieces of equipment and had more than 500 employees. The company had 26 terminals across Alabama as well as in Atlanta, Georgia and Beaumont, Texas. At that time, Ross Neely Systems offered less-than-truckload (LTL) and truckload services and the company operated in the 48 contiguous states. It also had van, tank and flatbed divisions that were successful during this period of growth and expansion.

Deregulation changes the industry and this company 

As noted in an earlier FreightWaves Classics article, the trucking industry was deregulated by Congress and the Carter administration in 1980 (as was the railroad industry). Knowing that the deregulation of intrastate traffic was likely as well, Neely sold his intrastate LTL and  tank authority shortly before deregulation took effect. Deregulation had a dramatic impact on the transportation industry; in trucking thousands of companies went out of business during the decade and thousands more were started. 

In addition, deregulation meant that interstate trucking companies had the opportunity to service LTL markets in Alabama. Over the course of several years, Ross Neely began a methodical effort to downsize the company to protect it. These actions streamlined the company, which refocused primarily on intrastate truckload freight. Later, an interstate LTL and truckload operation was started to service several other southeastern states. 

“There wasn’t really a big secret to building this company. I just tried to outwork everyone else. When they quit at 6, I’d drive until 10. When they didn’t want to work on weekends, I got up on Saturday. It was really about hard work. And some luck. I just feel blessed.”

– Ross Neely, Jr.

The company in 2022

An overview of Ross Neely Systems today shows a truckload carrier operating about 60 power units and 200 trailers. The company has three terminals in Alabama (Birmingham, Gadsden and Selma) and drop yards in Mobile, Tuscaloosa and Montgomery. It employs over 70 drivers across the state.

The company serves the Southeast, Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions, as well as providing regular service to Texas. It also offers short-haul and localized services. The carrier hauls non-hazardous shipments of “all commodities and sizes – from palletized to floor loaded.” In addition, drop trailers are available at the origin or destination for its customers’ convenience. The company also provides van and flatbed logistics services throughout the 48 contiguous states.

A Ross Neely Systems tractor and trailer move down the road. (Photo: Ross Neely Systems)
A Ross Neely Systems tractor and trailer move down the road.
(Photo: Ross Neely Systems)

A family-owned business for nearly 65 years, Ross Neely Systems has one of the lowest driver turnover rates in the nation. In addition, several family members work in the business, including daughter Carol Miller and her husband Johnny, granddaughter Neely Franklin, and grandson Tommy Neely IV, who is the company’s president. Ross Neely Systems, Inc., received the American Truck Historical Society’s 50-Year Company Award in 2009. 

One Comment

  1. Cool article, thank you. How about a weekly look back by highlighting one LTL each week that went out of business in the 1980-2020 range. Preston-Intestate-CF-Hyman-Murphy-Crouse Cartage-ANRAdvance-NEMF, Lee Way, Fore-Way, Parker Motor Freight, American, Hall’s, Silver Eagle, PIE, Transcon, Indianhead, Rudolph Express, Churchill, Branch Motor, to name just a few.

Scott Mall

Scott Mall serves as Managing Editor of FreightWaves Classics. He writes articles for the website, edits the SONAR Daily Watch series, marketing material for FreightWaves and a variety of FreightWaves special projects. Mall’s career spans 45 years in public relations, marketing and communications for Fortune 500 corporations, international non-profits, public relations agencies and government agencies.