I’ve been involved in the trucking industry now for over 40 years. During this time, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some amazing people. One of those amazing individuals I’ve had the pleasure of knowing is Michael Gully, President of Quincy, Illinois based Gully Transportation. You won’t meet a more genuine, humble, and amazing man in the trucking industry than Michael – or anyone who loves Freightliner trucks more. John and I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with Michael at the ATHS show in Reno this past June.
While the white with yellow and blue striped rigs of Gully Transportation are a well-known sight on the highways across our country today, the company came from very humble beginnings. Michael’s father, William “Bill” Gully, grew up during the Great Depression and is considered by many as a pioneer and an icon in the trucking industry. Known for his relentless work ethic, Bill took his one truck operation at the age of 20 and grew it into the 200+ tractor-trailer fleet that Gully Transportation is today, now run by his son Michael.
Talking to Michael in more detail, he told me, “My dad was born in 1927. At the age of 14, he began driving a dump truck in a rock quarry in Barry, IL for the Missouri Gravel Company in the summer,” Michael said. “His brother Lloyd and my grandfather also trucked, hauling livestock between Barry, IL and the East St. Louis stockyards during that time, around 1939, and my dad would ride along with them or other drivers,” as Michael continued telling me his dad’s story. During those rides, the young Bill learned a lot, especially from one Riss and Company driver in particular, Wimpy Skillman, who took a liking to Bill and mentored him, teaching Bill how to drive his truck on the 250-mile trip from Barry to Chicago.
At 16 years old Bill began working part-time on weekends and evenings for the Kansas City based Knaus Truck Lines shop in Barry. Bill was initially hired to fix tires, service trucks, and wash them, but with the advent of the United States entering World War II in 1944, the country experienced a crucial driver shortage. As it still is today, the legal age to drive a truck across state lines (interstate) was 21, but at that time, the ICC turned a blind eye to this rule due to the war efforts and the driver shortages. This allowed Bill the opportunity to start driving trucks at the age of 17.
That summer (1944), the Knaus Road Boss (terminal manager) needed a driver to take a load from Barry, IL to Indianapolis, IN. Knowing Bill could drive, the Road Boss approached Bill and asked him if he would take the load. Needless to say, that trip started Bill’s lifelong career in trucking. When that summer ended, Bill asked his father if he could continue driving instead of going back to school for his senior year of high school. Bill’s father was not surprised by the request, telling Bill it was his decision. So, in September that year, just before his 17th birthday, Bill’s full-time truck driving career officially began.
Not just a driver, Bill also knew how to work on trucks, with Michael telling me, “My dad was once on a run to Indianapolis one weekend for Knaus and the truck’s engine went down. There were not any shops open in the area, so my dad talked a mechanic into letting him use his shop to tear down the engine and rebuild it that weekend.” Needless to say, it caught the attention of Knaus executives back in Kansas City who then advocated to the ICC and insurance companies in order to keep Bill working for the company, due to his amazing job performance. But after the war ended, service members who drove for Knaus before the war began returning home and, by 1947, Bill was quickly bumped from his driving position.
Looking for an opportunity, at only 20 years old, Bill purchased his first truck and leased it on to Kansas City based Healzer Cartage. While the ICC began enforcing its 21 age requirements to run interstate, Healzer utilized Bill and his truck, operating him between their Pittsfield and Chicago terminals, within the state of Illinois. Having found some success with Healzer, Bill decided to expand from a one truck operator to a small fleet owner. After purchasing eight trucks, he began converting his small fleet from gasoline powered trucks to the more powerful diesel engines being produced by Cummins. All of Bill’s trucks continued to be leased to Healzer, operating routes from Kansas City to Chicago, Milwaukee, Peoria, and all relaying at the Pittsfield, IL terminal.
“My dad typically ran the Pittsfield to Chicago turn, and that’s where he met my mother in 1955,” said Michael. Bill and Barbara married a year later and, that same year, in 1956, Bill purchased six brand-new Hendrickson trucks, of which Michael still owns one of those original trucks to this day. Things at Healzer were going great for Bill, but in 1958 Healzer was sold to Arkansas Best Freight (ABF) who preferred to operate company owned trucks, thus pushing out leased operators like Bill once their contracts ended. Worried about having 11 trucks sitting idle after his contract ended, Bill moved his trucks to other carriers that were operating between Chicago and Kansas City. One of these operators was Hannibal Quincy Truck Lines of Hannibal, MO. After leasing three trucks on to the carrier, Bill began acquiring stock in the company, and by 1961 he had 51% ownership of H&Q. In 1966 he purchased the remaining 49% of the company.
As the Gully fleet grew, Bill began his decades long relationship with Freightliner Trucks in 1964. Purchasing 14 new White-Freightliner Trucks, these cabovers were leased to Chicago Kansas City Freight Lines and operated between Kansas City, Chicago, Springfield, Bloomington, Rockford, and Lincoln. Throughout the late 60s and early 70s, Gully acquired other regional trucking companies, increasing their footprint, and allowing the company to grow.
In 1974, Gully adopted its current blue and white livery, and a year later (in 1975) the company became debt free, allowing Gully to be able to purchase new equipment without any financing. After becoming a loyal customer of Freightliner and having established itself as a Freightliner fleet since 1964, Freightliner Trucks awarded Bill Gully a dealership franchise in 1986, which became known as Quincy Freightliner, until selling it off to Kansas City based Midway Truck Sales in 2009.
Born in 1957, Michael followed his father around as a little boy, and fell in love with trucks and the business. He began working in the shop and learning the ropes at an early age, and by the time he was 16 he had begun working in the office, dispatching trucks and drivers. After graduating high school, Michael went to college for a year, but came back to the family business that he loved and has helped grow over the years – and he still runs it to this very day.
A wealth of knowledge when it comes to Freightliner trucks, if you ask Michael what his favorite Freightliner is, he will tell you straight up that the best truck Freightliner ever built was the FLD 120. Even though the majority of his fleet now consists of modern Cascadias and Coronados, you will still find plenty of reliable FLD 120s operating in the Gully fleet. Michael has even gone as far as establishing a rebuild program at his shop to keep his fleet of Freightliner FLD 120s operating for years to come. Today, the 200+ trucks in the Gully fleet include 70% Freightliner, 15% Peterbilt, and 15% Kenworth, so the company is still a loyal Freightliner customer.
Michael lives and breathes trucks, and he loves history, and his collection of vintage trucks, mostly consisting of Freightliners, is second to none. One of the coolest and rarest trucks in his collection is a 1949 Freightliner model 880, known as a bubblenose by trucking fans, and nicknamed “Big Bertha” by Michael’s wife Ginny. This truck is a former Consolidated Freightways truck and was the 251st Freightliner ever built. But while that model 880 is unique, Michael also still owns a few of his dad’s trucks that include a 1964 Freightliner WFT cabover and a 1956 Hendrickson conventional. All together, Michael’s collection contains over 39 vintage rigs in various conditions (look for features on some of these rigs in future editions of 10-4 Magazine).
Michael believes the current size of Gully Transportation is ideal, telling me, “We’re a big fish on a local level. On a national scale, where a company might have 15,000 trucks, we would be a small fish,” continuing with, “Our size is advantageous over being bigger because we can be more in tune with the customer and do a better job managing our customer’s loads.” From office staff to the truck drivers, Michael and Ginny know their team members and have an open door policy should they need to talk to either of them. And when it comes to their drivers, the turnover rate at Gully Transportation is much lower than the national average – about 70 percent of their drivers have been with the company five years or more, with many drivers having worked there for decades.
Sadly, Bill Gully died on May 13, 2019, at the age of 91, and then his wife Barbara of 63 years passed away five weeks later on June 20, 2019, at 83. Barbara was the company matriarch, and they are both remembered for their contributions to the trucking industry and the company they built. I’d like to thank Michael for sharing his story, the story of his father, the history of his company, and his love for Freightliner trucks with us. You are a Freightliner family like no other, and we love you for that.