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FreightWaves Haul of Fame: Central Freight Lines has served its customers for 95+ years

Moving toward the century mark!

Central Freight Lines, Inc., a less-than-truckload (LTL) carrier, began in Waco, Texas, in 1925 with a single Model T truck. Its founder, W.W. “Woody” Callan, Sr., founded the company as Central Forwarding and Warehouse Company and transported goods to Dallas and Waco merchants with that single vehicle. Callan had gained his trucking and transportation knowledge while working as an assistant to a warehouse foreman at the Weathered Transfer and Storage company prior to building his own business. He furthered this knowledge during World War II while serving as a warehousing chief in both Atlanta and for the Pentagon.

Early years

The company incorporated in 1927 and began making regular trips between Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin. Attempts to include Houston in the company’s route were thwarted by impassable roads and harsh weather conditions. 

In 1929, the Texas Legislature established intrastate trucking regulations to govern the growing industry. Callan had to separate Central Forwarding’s household goods moving business, which became known as Central Forwarding, Inc., from the company’s general freight transportation business, known as Central Freight Lines, Inc.

A Central Freight Lines patch. (Dale Branch Collection)
A Central Freight Lines patch. (Dale Branch Collection)

Central opened its first company-owned facility in 1932. The company’s terminal and general office were located on 13th Street in Waco. 

By 1933, the company was able to add regular service to Houston and began purchasing operating authorities from other companies in the area. Central Freight Lines and Central Forwarding operated independently of one another, except for using the same equipment and facilities. 

Central Freight Lines’ Dallas facility was the largest freight facility in the world in 1938. In 1940 Central Federal Credit Union was opened.

By 1951, Central Freight Lines had outpaced Central Forwarding’s growth, and the two companies were completely separated. Central Freight Lines continued to grow by purchasing other small trucking companies and their ICC-approved authorities/routes for many years.

In 1952, R. H. Linam became Central’s second president. Earlier than many companies, an employee stock purchase plan is established.

Growth before and after deregulation

The company continued to grow and prosper during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. In 1978, Central became the first motor carrier to be honored with the Materials Handling Leadership Award from the Society of Packing and Handling Enterprise.

In 1979, Woody Callan, Jr., becomes Central’s third president. That same year, Central ranked 33rd on the list of Top 100 Class 1 carriers.

A Central Freight Lines tractor and twin trailers. Note the different logos... (Photo: Stanley Houghton Collection)
A Central Freight Lines tractor and twin trailers. Note the different logos… (Photo: Stanley Houghton Collection)

When the trucking industry was deregulated in 1980, many older companies had difficulty in the new, much more competitive environment. However, Central Freight Lines did well. In 1984, Central Freight Lines acquired Curry Freight Lines and Perry Motor Freight, as well as acquiring over 75 intrastate routes when Red Arrow Freight Lines stopped operating its intrastate Texas routes. That same year, Central received the 1984 American Trucking Associations’ (ATA) President’s Trophy.

Founder W.W. Callan, Sr., who was the company’s Chairman of the Board, passed away in 1987.

Another Central Freight Lines patch. (Dale Branch Collection)
Another Central Freight Lines patch.
(Dale Branch Collection)

Major changes in the 1990s

In 1990, Tom Clowe joined Central Freight Lines as executive vice president and chief operating officer. He became Central’s fourth president in 1992.

Central received interstate operating authority for the continental United States in 1991. The company expanded into Oklahoma that year, and Arkansas, New Mexico and Tennessee the following year. The company implemented a hub-and-spoke system to better operate the growing company.

In October 1992, Woody Callan, Jr. and Diana Callen Braswell retired, selling their stock to the Employees Profit Sharing and Retirement Plan. This made Central an employee-owned company. On November 23, Roadway Services, Inc. and Central reached an agreement in principle for Central to be purchased by Roadway.

On March 27, 1993, employee-owners and direct shareholders of Central voted to approve the purchase of the company by Roadway Services, Inc. Central Freight Lines became a part of Roadway on April 11, and joined the Roadway Regional Group. Central was a stand-alone regional subsidiary in Roadway’s portfolio that also included other regional carriers such as Viking Freight System, Cole’s Express and Spartan Express.

Having expanded into Louisiana the year before, Central expanded into Colorado, Kansas and Missouri in 1994. Later that year, the company expanded into Illinois and Mississippi.

A Central Freight Lines terminal. (Photo: Stanley Houghton Collection)
A Central Freight Lines terminal. (Photo: Stanley Houghton Collection)

On January 1, 1995, federal law deregulated intrastate common carrier trucking nationwide. Joe Hall became Central’s fifth president that year. On December 14, Roadway Services, Inc. became Caliber Systems, Inc. and on December 18, Caliber announced the consolidation of Central, Coles, Spartan and Viking Freight Systems into Viking Freight, Inc. This move created a nationwide freight carrier from multiple regional carriers. Central Freight Lines became the Southwestern Division of Viking Freight, Inc. in 1996.

On June 30th, 1997, an investment group led by a number of senior Central managers purchased selected assets of the former Central Freight Lines from Viking Freight. They reopened the company as a new Central Freight Lines.

In 1999, Central Freight Lines acquired Arizona intrastate carrier Jaguar Fast Freight. Central continued westward expansion into California and Nevada by purchasing Vecta Transportation Systems, Inc. of Sacramento, California.

A third Central Freight Lines patch. (Dale Branch Collection)
A third Central Freight Lines patch.
(Dale Branch Collection)

Changes continue during 21st century

Central Freight Lines became a publicly traded company in 2003. For the fourth time, Central won the prestigious ATA President’s Trophy in 2004. In 2005, the company was awarded Carrier of the Year by Direct Logistics.

In 2006, Central became a privately held enterprise again when it merged with North American Truck Lines, LLC and Green Acquisition Company, controlled by Jerry Moyes.

In 2008, Don Orr was named President and CEO of Central Freight Lines. In addition, the company was awarded the ATA’s President’s Trophy for the fifth time.  

Central expanded in 2009; it began offering service to 49 states. The company also began a Time-Definite Guarantee Delivery Program – Delivery by 10:30 a.m. or 5:00 p.m. Central Freight Lines was selected as one of the Top 100 Motor Carriers by Inbound Logistics magazine. That same year, Central began its partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency as a SmartWay Transport Partner.

Over the course of several years, a number of Central Freight Lines drivers won Driver of the Year awards from the ATA and Texas Motor Transportation Association. 

In 2011, Central Freight founder W.W. Callan was inducted into the Texas Transportation Institute Hall of Honor. 

Central Freight Lines was one of the first LTL carriers to purchase compressed natural gas (CNG)-powered tractors in 2012. CNG offered environmental benefits and a way to reduce dependency on foreign fuels. That same year, Central was named an: Inbound Logistics Top 100 Motor Carrier; Transport Topics Top 100 for-Hire Carrier; and Commercial Carrier Journal Top 250 For-Hire Trucking Companies. In 2013, Heavy Duty Trucking chose Central Freight Lines as one of the Top 50 Green Fleets in America. Commercial Carrier Journal named Central Freight as one of the Top 250 For-Hire Trucking Companies in 2014.

Five Central Freight Lines trucks backed up to docks. (Photo: Stanley Houghton Collection)
Five Central Freight Lines trucks backed up to docks. (Photo: Stanley Houghton Collection)

Central Freight Lines’ expansion continued. In 2013, the company expanded into Tennessee and Wisconsin with the acquisition of Circle Delivery of Tennessee. In 2014, Central acquired DTI, an LTL carrier based in Georgia. In 2017, Central acquired Wilson; a new division was created with an increase of 80 terminals.

In 2018 Tom Botsios was appointed President of Central Freight Lines. In 2020, Central Freight Lines celebrated its 95th year in operation. It also announced its Simplified LTL Shipping Service to and from CFL Mexico, CFL Puerto Rico and CFL Hawaii. In addition, it was named Carrier of the Year by GlobalTranz.

Central Freight Lines has 80 terminals from Miami to Los Angeles. Its network supports warehousing, inventory control and distribution capabilities for customers seeking to outsource their supply chain needs. The company’s fleet continues to use both diesel- and CNG-powered tractors, start-of-the-art dispatching and tracking systems and the latest technology.

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.