Jim Palmer Trucking was founded by Jim Palmer in Missoula, Montana in 1964 with one truck. The company began as a livestock and lumber hauler with intrastate authority. It was not until after deregulation of the trucking industry in 1980 that the trucking company began to branch out into other commodities. This also coincided with a slump in the timber/lumber industry and the closing of a number of sawmills across Montana.
Deregulation was beneficial for the trucking industry overall. Nonetheless, it negatively impacted many trucking companies in the 1980s; they had a difficult time adjusting to the new operating conditions. However, just the opposite seemed to be the case with Jim Palmer Trucking. The company slowly began to grow, and in 1986, established its first out-of-state terminal in Salina, Kansas. That year, the company experienced a 50% growth rate. By 1989, the company utilized a fleet of 125 trucks and employed 160 people. Jim Palmer Trucking became the largest reefer carrier in the state of Montana.
The company experienced 10 to 20% annual growth each year during the 1990s. By 1998, this growth led the company to establish locations in Florida, Kansas and South Dakota in addition to its Montana home base. The company operated a fleet of 350 trucks in 1998. That year, the company announced an expansion of its Missoula facility as well as an expansion of its fleet. The company added 10 to 15 trucks monthly, an investment of approximately $51.5 million monthly. These trucks also utilized state-of-the-art satellite systems and on-board electronic mail systems so that drivers could communicate with their families. The company planned to have a fleet of 500 trucks by the early 2000s. Unfortunately, an economic downturn that worsened after the September 11 attacks put the expansion of the fleet on a longer schedule.
Jim Palmer Trucking’s financial situation was precarious for several more years, and by 2008, had grown dire. In the first quarter of that year, more than 900 trucking companies nationwide had declared bankruptcy due to rising operational costs. In early July, Jim Palmer Trucking laid off six of its office workers, claiming they were consolidating the workforce to offset rising fuel costs. However, just a few days later, the company and two of its subsidiaries, Jim Palmer Equipment and Jim Palmer Equipment II, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company had 425 employees at the time.
Jim Palmer Trucking and the two subsidiaries were delinquent on $2 million in debt to equipment lenders. The companies cited rising fuel and operational costs as well as an economic recession for their delinquent payments. However, unlike many companies during the 2008-09 recession, Jim Palmer Trucking was able to emerge from reorganization in one piece in early 2009. Staff and wages were cut, but the company remained afloat until its purchase by two Chicago businessmen in November 2009. The remaining 280 employees were able to keep their jobs.
Jim Palmer Trucking continued under the operation of the two Chicago businessmen with Jim Palmer serving as advisor until the company was purchased by Wil-Trans, a family-owned trucking company based in Springfield, Missouri.
At the time of the purchase the company’s fleet had shrunk to 185 trucks. The company operated as a subsidiary of Wil-Trans. The family that owns Wil-Trans renamed the company and it is now Wilson Logistics. It is still based in Springfield, and one of its operating locations is in Missoula, so the legacy of Jim Palmer Trucking lives on.
For any reader who is a fan of baseball, the “other” Jim Palmer is James Alvin Palmer, a former Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher who played 19 years for the Baltimore Orioles (1965-1967, 1969-1984). Palmer was the winningest MLB pitcher in the 1970s, totaling 186 wins. He also won at least 20 games in eight different seasons and won three Cy Young Awards and four Gold Gloves during the decade. His 268 career victories are currently an Orioles record. A six-time American League All-Star, he was also one of the rare pitchers who never allowed a grand slam in any major league contest.