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FreightWaves Haul of Fame: Indianhead creates a Midwestern legacy of service

Indianhead Motor Line, Inc. was founded by Lester A. Wilsey in 1931 with a nine-year-old Model T truck. With this 1922 truck Wilsey began serving the area surrounding Rice Lake, Wisconsin. In those early days, the company operated under the name Wilsey Truck Co.

An early Indianhead Truck Line, Inc. delivery truck.

However, after several years of business, Wilsey realized a more distinctive name was required if he were to remain competitive. He chose the name “Indianhead” to pay homage to the distinctive Native American history in the northern Wisconsin area he was serving. However, the iconic blue and yellow color scheme did not follow until 1966. The company was incorporated in 1942, and shortly afterward moved its headquarters to Saint Paul, Minnesota.

The company’s first successes came from bulk hauling, particularly petroleum. Indianhead was particularly successful in this endeavor because there was a need for dependable movement of products to gas outlets in Minnesota that were further away from a rail line. After successes in petroleum, Indianhead began hauling dry bulk, chemicals, sand, lime and natural gas. 

By 1965, Indianhead was experiencing sound success. Reported revenue for that year was $7.8 million, and the company had a fleet of over 500 units serving 27 terminals in 14 states. By the 1970s, Indianhead was hauling approximately 60% bulk commodities and 40% truckload and less-than-truckload (LTL) commodities. The company’s equipment included straight trucks, tractor-trailers, single axle city vans, and 12 types of tank trailers.

An Indianhead tanker in the corporate yellow and blue color scheme.

In 1968, Indianhead merged with OIM Transit Corporation of Fort Wayne, Indiana. The merger added OIM’s routes east of Chicago to the Indianhead portfolio. These routes included parts of Indiana that Indianhead had not yet serviced, as well as routes to Kalamazoo and Holland, Michigan. Prior to the purchase of OIM, Indianhead had been a Twin Cities, Minnesota and Chicago LTL carrier with irregular routes into northern Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin. 

The first Indianhead Truck Line offices.

After the merger, Indianhead relocated its headquarters to a larger terminal in Saint Paul, having outgrown its previous location. In 1969 Indianhead added a Specialized Commodities Division, which primarily transported food products and used its irregular routes. Indianhead continued to expand its authority (under Interstate Commerce Commission oversight) through acquisitions at this time. By 1969, the carrier moved 3.5 million tons of cargo over 20 million miles and employed approximately 900 people. In 1972, Indianhead purchased two more companies, Dundee Truck Line, Inc. and Modern Motor Express, Inc.

An Indianhead marketing piece showing the company’s coverage areas.

Indianhead’s success story continued well into 1980, a year that would be game-changing for the industry with the passage of the Motor Carrier Act, which deregulated trucking and ended 45 years of ICC oversight). In 1980, Indianhead boasted 211 tractors and over 600 trailers. Revenue for the fiscal year was reported at $33,519,217.

An Indianhead patch in blue-red.

Indianhead continued to operate for 17 more years, but closed its doors in 1997. The Wilsey family went on to run Lakeville Motor Express, also based in Minnesota. That company closed down abruptly in December 2016.

An Indianhead patch in the yellow-blue color scheme.

One Comment

  1. The Wilsey family are crooks ! They cheated all of the LME employees out of wages and expenses, all while duping the bank to pad their own pockets. How can you not pay your employees with the last money that’s left? They paid their family member astronomical pay checks even if they never set foot at a worksite. It’s just criminal!
    Clark Anderson

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.