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FreightWaves Haul of Fame: Lyons Transportation Lines was unable to paint over its red ink

A Lyons Transportation Lines tractor-trailer waits at a dock to load. (Photo: Stanley Houghton Collection)

The story of Lyons Transportation began when John Cochran, who was just 19 years old, purchased his first truck in Erie, Pennsylvania in 1929. The truck cost $40, and Cochran only had $10. He made the remaining payments in installments. The truck, which barely ran, was almost immediately used as the down payment for another truck, a Ford demonstrator truck. He used this truck to haul his first commodities, including beer, gravel, bricks, sand and rocks. At first, the company operated under the name Cochran Brothers Transportation Company, as he shared driving responsibilities with Joe, his younger brother. Their first operating routes were between Erie, Pennsylvania and Buffalo, New York. By 1943, the industrious brothers had grown the small company to a fleet of seven tractors and 12 trailers.

The Cochran brothers acquired the name Lyons when they bought a company of that name in 1946. Lyons Transportation Co. had been in operation since 1929, when it also started with just one truck. By 1945, the company, under the direction of Charlie and Spider Lyons, had terminals in New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. However, that same year, a devastating fire crippled the company. Charlie Lyons decided not to rebuild, but rather to sell the remaining pieces of Lyons to the Cochran brothers. At the time, Lyons Transportation Co. had been the largest transportation company in the area.

The sale was final in January 1946. The new company continued under the name Lyons Transportation Lines. A less-than-truckload (LTL) carrier, Lyons was also known by the LTL initials. In 1950, Lyons acquired Nypano Motor Express, also known as Pony Express.

Lyons Transportation Lines trucks and trailers parked in a yard. (Photo: Stanley Houghton Collection)

By 1969, the Lyons Transportation Lines fleet had grown to 207 tractors and 377 trailers and operated out of 17 terminals. The 1970s and 1980s marked further expansion for LTL as it extended its service area into Connecticut, Maryland (including Washington, D.C.), Massachusetts and Rhode Island. They then expanded to Illinois, Indiana and Michigan in the Midwest, Kentucky and Tennessee in the South, and California in the West.

In 1987, Cleveland, Ohio-based Sherwin-Williams Company acquired LTL to haul its paint products. Lyons Transportation Lines was merged with CTS, a truckload carrier already owned by Sherwin-Williams. Unfortunately, the merger did not go as intended for Sherwin-Williams, and the merged company began to falter. Profitability tanked. 

A Lyons Transportation Lines truck backed up to a dock. Notice the LTL logo. (Photo: Stanley Houghton Collection)

Lyons was owned until June 1990 by Sherwin-Williams. The company was sold at that time to an investor’s group headed by Thomas Farrell, who had been the president of the company.

By that time, the LTL carrier was operating chiefly in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. According to ICC reports, Lyons Transportation Lines generated $61.4 million in revenue in 1989, which was $11 million lower than in 1988. The company’s operating ratio, which measures expenses as a share of revenue, was a money-losing 111.1%.

Three LTL trucks parked at a dock. (Photo: Stanley Houghton Collection)

Lyons declared bankruptcy in October 1990 and its operations were closed.

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  1. Alfred Rose

    You can thank deregulation for the demise of these and many more carriers and jobs . What were they thinking ? Saving were never passed down to the American consumer went right to the bottom line of all the big shippers . Now trucking has become a whores game . What a shame for the industry .

    1. josephpesch

      As an interesting story– during An interesting and true story- during WW2 there was a continuing comic strip called Flip Corkin about a fighter pilot who in real life was Cochran! I remember this comic strip and I followed his exploits. I got a chance to meet the real Cochran, at a dinner meeting of the Cleveland Trucking Association!!

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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.