Still rolling strong after 75 years

Sally Nelson
Steve (from left), Duane and Richard Bell of Bell Trucking stand near some of the company’s fleet of trucks recently. Started in 1923 by Duane’s father, C. Strauss Bell, Bell Trucking is marking 75 years in business in 2008.

Bell Trucking has been in the trucking business for 75 years. Duane and his family will be hosting an anniversary open house at 303 SE 8th Ave. on Saturday, Sept. 20.

Bell Trucking was started in 1933 by C. Strauss Bell, father of present owner Duane, and was located on Northeast Second Street.

Strauss had always had the desire to drive a truck, even as an 11-year-old boy, which he did. At the age of 14, he had a chauffeur’s license and drove a truck that had a chain drive instead of a differential and solid tires, no tubes.

C.S. Bell and J.H. Murchison were among several Henry County truckers named on the “honor roll” of the top 300 truck operators in a safety program conducted by the Chicago Stockyards in the ’30s. Duane started working for his father while still in Galva High School, graduating in 1956. He has been there ever since – yes, 52 years.

It definitely is a family business, as Duane’s sons, Richard and Steve, now work alongside their father. Richard has worked for his dad for 23 years, after serving four years in the Marines, and Steve for 20 years.

There are 15 full-time, seven part-time and seven leased employees. Richard Nash has worked for 22 years full-time and before that, part- time. Ron Hollingsworth has been with Bell’s for 20 years.

At one time Strauss was one of Galva’s milkmen, for four years, prior to starting his own business in 1933.

Strauss started his trucking operation by hauling coal from Victoria to Galva in his 1926 Chevy that cost him $40. In 1934, he traded it in on a four-cylinder Chevrolet truck that was the first in a series of truck replacements that hauled many area farmers’ hogs and cattle to Peoria. He also hauled Nehi Soda on a route through towns such as Edelstein, Wyanet and Geneseo.

A Bell Trucking telephone book ad in the 1930s reads, “Livestock and Coal a Specialty.” Today they haul grain, lime, gravel and scrap metal. They mainly haul scrap metal and foundry supplies to all the states except California.

In 2008 they also started a concrete business. They have done some small jobs for Galva’s ethanol plant, and do a lot of house foundations. Also, much snow is cleared each winter by Bells.

Strauss purchased his first brand-new truck in 1935, a Ford. By 1936, he branched out to a two-truck outfit, hauling livestock to the old Chicago Stockyard. Twenty-five years ago Bell Trucking had 14 semi-trailers and 10 tractor cabs. It wasn’t until Duane was one year old that Strauss bought his first semi. Today they have 50 trailers, 10 licensed tractor cabs and seven leased trucks.

In 1942 Bell moved to 416 NE 2nd St., where they remained until 2001. They then moved to the present location, 303 SE 8th Ave. In 2007 they moved into a new office addition.

When they celebrated 50 years in business, Bell Trucking was mainly hauling grain to Peoria, Pekin, Havana and Decatur, and from Lincoln to Galva.

In 1979 Strauss had hip surgery and had to give up active involvement in the business.

Costs of doing business have changed over the years. In 1959, diesel fuel was 18 cents a gallon; in 1983 it had risen to $1.25 a gallon, and today it is $4.14.

In 1983 it cost $92,000 to purchase a tractor and trailer – quite a difference from 1933 when Strauss paid $40 for his first truck. Today a new tractor cab costs $85,000 to $125,000. Their last new one was purchased in 1974. A new trailer costs $25,000 to $100,000.

In 1983, $1,800 to $2,000 a year per unit was needed to license a truck, along with the same amount for insurance coverage per unit per year.

In 1983, yearly federal tax per truck ran anywhere from $210 to $1,800. Now 25 years later, it costs $2,500 and $125 for a special-haul permit for short trailers. Trailer plates are $15 for life.

They pay $550 highway-use tax, plus tax on fuel for each unit. Insurance runs from $2,500 to $3,500 per powered unit. As you can see, doing business isn’t cheap.

The Bells have logged a lot of miles over the last 75 years. They have also been a big asset to the community – not only as a business, but also for all their volunteer time and donations to the Galva community.

The road hasn’t always been good, but we hope the Bells keep on truckin’ for another 75 years.