Woods Transport (Hespeler) Limited

by May 26, 2022Turner Tales0 comments

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Woods Transport Limited

by Lary Turner

The largest family-owned trucking company in Hespeler’s history had a strange and frightening beginning. The story is a testament to one man’s bravery, iron will, strength, hard work, and determination to provide a good life for his family!

William “Bill” Woods had served in the British Army; twenty-two years in the Irish Guards, and a tour of duty as “Sergeant of the Guards” at Buckingham Palace. Upon retirement, following the First World War, he accepted a job as a Postman in his home of Northern Ireland. Irish Terrorism was in its infancy and Sinn Fein was staging robberies to finance their operations. Postmen were a favorite target and were required to carry a gun for protection. One day they tried robbing Bill and he shot an IRA member. Sinn Fein issued a death sentence order on him, so he hastily packed up his family and moved to Canada.

Arriving in 1921, William and Margaret (Lyttle) Woods and their four boys and one girl stayed with relatives who owned a farm near Hespeler (where Holiday Inn once stood). Three months later, the family bought a house on Cooper Street (today #191) from Mr. Oscar Weaver. The purchase included a barn at the rear. Mr. Weaver operated a small cartage business using one wagon, one freight sleigh for winter, a plow & a set of harrows, all pulled by a former funeral horse named Dan. Bill Woods offered him $200 and was now owner of his own business!

Woods TransportThe work consisted of hauling freight between the railway stations, factories & stores, household moves, ploughing & harrowing gardens and odd jobs (the rate charged for horse, wagon and driver was only 80 cents an hour). A strong man determined to succeed, he often worked long hours and his reputation and business grew. 

Bill Woods hauled tons of freight for shipment from local companies, as their shippers complained of slow delivery service by the railways. In 1923, following a couple of years of successful operation, he decided to buy a truck and haul directly to Hamilton and Toronto daily, thereby improving service for his clients. He ordered a Ford truck from Herb Ott that was delivered that winter. A problem occurred almost immediately as overnight the radiator froze and burst; but luckily didn’t crack the engine block. The rest of the winter it ran covered by horse blankets (antifreeze was somewhere in the future)! 

At the time Hwy #401 had not been built and Toronto was reached through Galt, Hamilton and Lake Shore Road (old Hwy #2). By loading the night before and leaving early, he could make the round trip in one day; barring any breakdowns or flat tires. His clients appreciated the quick service and business grew slowly but steadily with another truck added by the end of the year.  

 As the business got busier, family members entered the small company, the sons helping with the work and daughter May took over the book work; records, invoicing and billing. Local deliveries were still being handled by horse, wagon and driver. Carloads of goods; flour, sugar, animal feed, sides of meat, etc. were loaded by hand at the railway stations and delivered to local merchants, butchers and bakers. All handled by a son and all were back breaking labour! 

Due to an increase in local deliveries, a 1918 Ford open cab truck joined the small fleet in the spring of 1924. By then, Woods Transport was hauling from Windsor to Toronto and Hamilton to Owen Sound and all places between. The following summer Bill Woods purchased a car and began a taxi service which became very busy as there were few cars around at that time. He also started a bus service by installing chairs along the sides of a flatbed truck and driving picnickers to Stager’s Flats and Puslinch Lake on weekends and holidays. Demand was so high for this service that a second truck was fitted with padded benches and a canvas roof. Tickets were printed and sold for trips to the Kitchener, Galt and Guelph Old Boys Reunions. The service ended when an Inspector for the Highways Department demanded to see the company’s bus license, insurance coverage, passenger capacity and running schedule! 

Oldest son George, often handled the taxi service in the evenings, which sometimes required long waits at the CNR Station. Thus, he became friends with the CN Express Agent who wished to retire, and suggested George take over the Hespeler Agency. On January 12, 1926, the deal finalized, George acquired the Express Truck and office equipment as a branch of their business. Operating out of the Queen Street West Express Office, with sister May handling the bookwork, the business now included; trucking & cartage, taxi & bus service, CN Express, and the following year Eaton’s Catalogue orders & deliveries. Business swiftly grew and the company required another office girl to help May handle the transport work.  

In 1927, Bill Woods bought out Len Evans’ teaming business, which included a large stable of fifteen horses; two teams, two singles and a truck with two-wheel trailer for hauling hydro poles. Other equipment included; heavy drays and sleighs, single wagons, Hoosier wagons (dump wagons for hauling gravel & coal) a large assortment of heavy ploughs, scoop shovels, etc. together with four teamsters and a number of part-time men. This was the remnants of a once successful livery business that was failing due to the growth of automobiles. The work consisted of hauling gravel for construction jobs, unloading carloads of pig iron, coke & coal for local foundries and factories. Another part of this business was selling fire wood for stoves & furnaces. Cord-wood hauled in during the summer, was cut into stove lengths in the fall, using a large circular saw powered by a one-cylinder gas engine, with a four-foot flywheel. 

In these prosperous years before the Great Depression, Woods Transport kept expanding by adding new trucks and drivers. Sometimes, this required modifying the length of the truck body to take bigger loads and changing transmission & axles for longer trips and overloads. Having expanded so quickly, the company was hugely affected by the Depression. All of their best customers saw business sales dry up, offices were closed, and wage rates fell. As the Depression dragged on, trucking freight rates dropped from $.43 to just $.17 (per hundred weight) and the Woods fleet shrank as idle trucks were cannibalized for parts to keep the others running. Cash flow was poor, but the company always met its payroll and never missed a time payment on equipment. 

The Ontario Government enacted the Public Commercial Vehicle Act in 1927, requiring all inter-urban carriers to obtain franchises for their routes. Woods Transport received a Class A licenses for mixed freight on Hwy. #24, #8 and #5, Class C for full loads from any shipper anywhere and Class H for household effects anywhere in Ontario south of North Bay. PVC license fees were modest in the beginning, but soon increased to several times the truck’s normal licensing fee. Regulations and requirements soon became more stringent, as well. Responsible transport companies welcomed the changes, but fly-by-night truckers continued to operate without PVC licenses and/or insurance, while cutting the freight rates to secure work. There were few inspectors with the Dept. of Highways and little chance of being caught. 

As the company moved through the nineteen thirties, there was slow economic recovery. At that time two other sons, Bob and Jack, finished school and joined the business; Bob doing local work with the horses and Jack with the trucking. The youngest brother, Pat, started helping out after school and weekends in 1935. Shortly after the marriage of oldest son George in October 1937, company founder Bill Woods was diagnosed with inoperable cancer and died, leaving his wife Margaret as sole proprietor. With all family members now involved, the business had to carry on as it was their sole source of income. With George and May running the office, brother Pat worked hard to bring in new business. Woods Transport soon became known as a reliable, honest and trusted carrier throughout the industry. 

In 1939, the company was hampered by war rationing of gasoline, tires and parts. The shipping of war materials took precedent over all else. Factories were humming with war production and wages shot up. By 1940, construction was booming and Woods Transport bought a disused gravel pit (off Guelph Avenue) and a one-ton gravel truck to help the horse teams deliver from the reopened pit.  

Woods Transport

Jack WoodsAs manpower grew shorter, first Bob, then Jack (more on Jack Woods) joined the army creating a large hole in the company. They made do with rejects from military service who went from job to job. Knowing that conscription was coming, Pat enlisted and luckily was assigned to a transportation & mechanical training unit at Camp Borden. He could come home most weekends to help keep the men and trucks on the move, but in 1942 he was sent overseas and responsibility for the company fell to George and sister May.

During the war years, Woods used their horses as much as possible for local work, but they were getting too old for Hespeler’s hills. The Galt Board of Works phased out their horses in favour of trucks in 1941, and Woods Transport purchased a fine young team of matched greys, with a fleet of wagons and other equipment as part of the deal. In 1944, They discontinued the teaming business as it was too slow, feed costs were high and it was losing money. The greys found a new home with a local farmer.

Finding shelter for the trucks in winter had been a problem from the start. In 1925, the company rented the old Sault Blacksmith Shop on Queen Street, which could hold two or three trucks. Then in 1928, they took over the old Brodie Shoddy Mill on Guelph Avenue. With the teaming business closed, they converted the large stable near Hespeler’s Town Hall and added a small loading dock. This functioned reasonably well until 1948.

At the end of the war, Bob and Jack decided not to reenter the business as they had their own plans. Pat returned in late 1945 and quickly made plans to build up the fleet, which had been reduced to six straight trucks. They planned to purchase tractors & semi-trailers as soon as they could afford them. Pat ranged far and wide picking up new business from contacts made during the war. It was a struggle to keep up with the new business and they rarely had enough equipment to meet the demands.  

The business doubled and redoubled many times from 1945 on, and procedures, staff and equipment needed constant improvement. The need for a large building to shelter units, and provide dock space, was now acute. After a vain attempt to find a suitable site, the company settled on their three-acre gravel pit property in a residential area off Guelph Avenue, in the northerly part of Hespeler. After applying for a zone change to “Commercial” and a building permit, which was granted, they erected a large building with dock space in 1948. By 1950, they had outgrown the space and had built a large repair shop, with mechanics and helpers. In 1953, Pat unearthed the biggest company expansion so far. Woods acquired IOS Transport which had a Class A license between Kitchener and Hamilton. With this acquisition, the company recruited two professional transport company managers to help run the large operation. 

The sole proprietor Mrs. Margaret Woods passed away in 1957, and the company was forced to reorganize; Pat Woods – President, Doody Doerr – General Manager, Stu Rettinger – Sales & Claims Manager, May Woods – Director & George Woods – Secretary-Treasurer. 

As the neighbourhood grew, residents became increasingly discontented with the large trucks passing through daily. They petitioned the Town to have the company relocate and in 1960 a deal was reached; the company would swap its current land for a vacant site off Queen St. West, as well as purchasing additional adjacent land for expansion. The company quickly constructed a handsome two-story modern terminal, with general and private offices on the second floor and driver’s quarters, lunch room, records room and parts storage on the ground level. The left side was for repair and paint shop, across the rear stretched a long-enclosed loading dock with ten bays on each end and three on the end. The surrounding fenced yard could hold two hundred vehicles, a bank of gas pumps, as well as an electric engine heating bank. The offices were air conditioned and all areas were connected to an intercom system. Additions to the dock area were needed within a year and by 1962 short-wave radio communication was installed in all trucks. 

As business grew, so did offers to merge or sell. On August 1, 1965 with 214 units in its fleet, the company was sold to Dominion Freightways owned by Lord Thomson of Fleet. In the ensuing years the name changed to Dominion Consolidated Freightways before relocating to the K-W area and the Queen St. West terminal was sold to Challenger Motor Freight. That company relocated to Maple Grove Road, the old terminal torn down, and the property sold to Loblaws. In 2018, it was acquired by Black Point Developments and will possible be developed for residential high-rise buildings with commercial space at ground level. 

Woods Transport
Woods Transport Christmas Party 1967
Lockie Main

One of Woods’ drivers, Lockie Main (April 10, 1927 – May 20, 2014)

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