Through the Decades

70th creast


Told by John Wagner Sr.


This year, 2016, celebrates our company’s 70th year in business. I want to tell you about how the industry has evolved since 1946 and how we, as a company have evolved as well.

As I write this I am approaching my 84th birthday. My thoughts are filled with remembrances of the West Bottoms, my father had a truck repair business at 1309 Union Avenue. The West Bottoms was a bustling area of employment with thousands of people before the 1951 flood.

Within the CIDA (Central Industrial District) there were 11 railroad freight houses. St. Louis claims to be the “Gateway of the West” but the Wagon Train Trails started from Independence, Missouri. Steamships brought goods up the Missouri River where they were transferred (drayed or carted) from the steamship landing to railroads. With the construction of the bridge across the Missouri the West Bottoms became a strategic location to concentrate for the “interlining” of ships. Interlining is transferring of shipments from steamships to railroads also known today as intermodal (movement by water, rail and truck).

My father started Wagner Cartage Service as a DBA in 1946, I was 15 years old. Wagner was located in a small office of a former gas station which had been converted to a small lunch counter restaurant named “Whistle Stop”.

The railroads relied on “Transfer Companies” to pick up outbound shipments from shippers and bring them to their freight houses and likewise pickup inbound shipments from their freight houses and deliver them to their consignees. I assume in the teens or the 20s the Railroad Superintendents Association (RSA) divided up the city by areas to  various freight transfer companies due to the size of the metropolitan area and the complexity of “who does what with who”.

In order to simplify the coordination of shipper’s requests for pickup and deliveries, the various transfer companies were organized into as association, The Team and Motor Truck Owners Association. One of the members relayed service requests to the appropriate member company. There were many issues handled by these associations. Unlike the over the road truck lines that were required to have certificates and operating authority issued by the States and Interstate Commerce commission, The Local Drayage and Transfer needed no authorization. In Kansas City, Missouri, the city assessed a tax, per truck, as an employment tax in the form of a metal tag each year.

Wagner was not accepted in the Team and Motor Truck Owners Association at first, dad did not recognize the assignment of who got who by the RSA. Early each morning we started by dispatching three trucks to Stowe’s dock to load routes headed east, southeast, and southwest. About noon two more trucks were dispatched for routes to be loaded north of the river and westward.

In 1949 a former own of a company can to work at Wagner, he brought a distribution account. We recognized a huge business opportunity in providing “break bulk” services from pool cars and pool trucks. Wagner Cartage Service adopted the advertising Tag Line “Specializing in Distribution”.

1950s- The Great Flood Part 1

I was married to my wife, Shirley, on January 27th, 1951. This year we will be celebrating our 65th anniversary.

Dad had moved back to the 1309 building. With the acquisition of a former transfer business came what was to be our first “Pool Distribution Account”.  The company started a program of consolidating shipments on to their truck from St. Louis several times a week and bringing them to us at 1309.  We would unload the trucks, deliver the local shipments and re-forward shipments which were destined to Kansas locations. There were a number of large forwarders within Kansas City, the freight forwarding business was enjoying considerable success in the 1950s.

I began working for dad full-time, after leaving Junior College, as a city delivery driver. On Friday, July 13th 1951, my wife and I were house sitting for my parents while they were in Texas visiting grandfather Wagner.  In Kansas City, it had rained every day for over a month and the river levels were high.  My normal Friday assignment was to stock and replenish the concessions booths of 16 Midwest Theaters. On this particular Friday, due to the threat of flooding, they decided to double up on both the popcorn and seasoning.  Around noon word had spread that the West Bottoms had flooded.

While dad was in Texas, a business partner was overseeing daily operations. He was able to get vital business records, office equipment and supplies up and out of harm’s way.  He also loaded merchandise on trailers and sent them up the hill. The flood waters eventually covered the roof of the building.

When the water receded there was about two feet of mud through most of the building. By Monday morning a temporary office site was located near 21st and Grand. Not a single day’s work was lost. The cleanup seemed to take forever and the National Guard assisted in the cleaning process. Even though the streets and sidewalks were cleaned and repaired, the impact of the industrial businesses would never be the same again. 

1950s- Stay tuned for part 2

The West Bottoms would never be the same, following the Great Flood of 1951. The 11 railroad freight terminals were gone. Only 5 of the 20 truck terminals reopened and all eight popular places to eat lunch were gone.

At Wagner we cleaned up the Union Ave building. We needed more space and my father made arrangements to lease a building located on Woodsweather Road.

A new president was elected to the Teamsters Union. During negotiations in Kansas City a strike befell the trucking industry. For two months my dad kept drivers working inside the garage. The new president achieved a national contract that brought what had been a hodge podge of wage scales into a system of commonality.

In 1952 my dad purchased an old company that had roots from the 1800’s. The company was big in distribution of dated periodicals aka magazines. Weekly rail cars would arrive on a team track, (team tracks were rail tracks for quick placement of inbound loaded railcars, then wagons or trucks could back into the railcar doors and transfer the loads to their trucks for final delivery). These magazines had postage paid and segregated by zip code then placed in the mail bags to be sorted and hauled to the main post office for residential delivery. This business was short lived, under the various “freight classifications” being regulated by the Interstate Commerce Commission because of the urgent timeliness of dated periodicals, air and package carriers were awarded this business.

My dad started bringing me in to the office. My initial job was bill sorting. Our “Break Bulk” pool distribution opportunities were increasing through word of mouth. I decided to go back to school. My wife and I had two young children and she was a stay at home mom. I concentrated on basic business courses.

In 1956, dad purchased a building on Hickory. We maintained our fleet shop on Union Avenue only three blocks away and the new location provided a lot of warehouse space. We immediately gained a couple storage accounts. Our warehouse business was soon overflowing.

At our facility on Woodsweather Road held our largest pool distribution account. Their local sales representative become a frequent visitor to our offices. One day in the late 1958 my dad told me we were flying to Chicago to meet with the officials to discuss establishing a warehouse for them in Kansas City. I could probably write a book on the lessons learned that came from our next 22 years of doing business with them.


The pool distribution service segment was growing and our warehouse was full during 1963-1964. We moved corporate, separated warehouse operations, and the fleet. Corporate moved to 806 Genesee. We remodeled the 2nd floor and for the first time I had an office. We built a strong business relationship with Harry so when our carrier service for KCTW ended, we were able to be the house carrier for GK Warehouses. This gave us exposure to a wide variety of trucking and warehousing opportunities.

When dad entered into his 50’s, he discovered the warm weather in Florida and began contemplating retirement.

Wagner Cartage Service’s reputation was gaining a national reputation as a provider of distribution and consolidation services. I will explain four key developments that occurred in the 1960s.


GK Warehouse had a customer, Goodyear with a manufacturing plant in Topeka. We were given the opportunity to serve as a mid-America consolidation and distribution warehouse for one of Goodyear’s subsidiaries, a tire and rubber company. We jumped at the chance and found ourselves providing a local office with over 1200 line items of inventory in five buildings.


By providing local deliveries for TFH we became acquainted with the local manager of this shipper’s association. We learned many of their members were customers of ours. We assumed the contract, the people, and the responsibility of performing the service.


In 1966, we were contacted by representatives of United Shippers of St. Louis. A new shipper’s cooperative was to be established in Kansas City. The Shippers co-op was made up of all the major manufacturers in the Kansas City area. We were delighted to be chosen as their consolidators.

We contacted the local Missouri Pacific Railroad (MOPAC) in an effort to lease the former inbound terminal at 1600 Union Ave., which had been sitting abandoned since 1951. We moved Wagner’s consolidation and distribution terminals into the 1600 Unions Ave. facility.


I became interested in how we could benefit by the use of computers, so we started using what was known as a “unit record equipment”. This allowed our information to become more organized, reliable, and cost effective.

In August of 1969, we were contacted by JCP to take on an entirely new type of consolidation and distribution operation which had significant volume. Their previous provider had handled the account in St. Louis but went out of business on August 1st. The most intriguing factor with the new business was that they relied on records from 80 column punch cards. This was the birth of KACON.           


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