Willis Shaw Logistics

Willis Shaw Logistics is a national transportation company based in Elm Springs (Washington and Benton Counties).

Willis Dean Shaw was born on August 29, 1918, in Custer City, Oklahoma, to George H. Shaw and Eva L. Shepard Shaw. By 1935, Shaw had moved to Elm Springs, which is where he met his future wife, Helen Lorene Dodd. Dodd was born on January 9, 1919, in Poteau, Oklahoma, but had moved with her family to Elm Springs by 1938. It was in that year that Shaw and Dodd were married, on June 16.

That same year, the Shaws opened the Kever and Shaw Feed Store in Elm Springs, which operated a feed mill, hatchery, and poultry farm. The previous year, Shaw had begun considering going into the business of commercial hauling. The idea came to him after he was paid to transport a few people to California in his Model A Ford. Later, he began hauling apples from Fayetteville (Washington County) and charcoal from Clarksville (Johnson County) to markets in Oklahoma. He also had a contract with the Elm Springs schools to transport children who lived outside of the city to and from school each day. With the money he earned from these early ventures, Shaw was able to purchase larger trucks when he founded the Willis Shaw Express Company in 1940, which primarily hauled produce from the northwestern Arkansas area to markets in St. Louis, Oklahoma City, and Chicago. However, company operations were temporarily suspended during World War II, when Shaw was recalled to the National Guard to serve in the European Theater.

When Shaw returned from the war, he partnered with Ellis Bogan and reopened the company. The partnership afforded Shaw the opportunity to expand the fleet to twenty tractor trailers. As local produce production waned in the postwar years, Willis Shaw Express began to primarily haul poultry to markets in St. Louis, Chicago, and Detroit. By 1966, the company had been renamed Willis Shaw Frozen Express Company and had expanded to almost 200 trucks transporting goods to markets on both coasts and everywhere in between, as well as parts of Canada. It had also expanded its offerings to refrigerated transportation, an industry in which Shaw was an early pioneer.

With its growth ongoing, the company applied to the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), under the grandfather clause of the Transportation Act of 1958, “to transport as a common carrier over irregular routes frozen fruits, berries, and vegetables, and frozen seafoods and poultry when transported with such frozen fruits, berries, and vegetables.” The ICC granted the application, but in a manner that would have curtailed the company’s prior operations. The company filed suit, and while the district court affirmed the judgment of the ICC, an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the judgment and remanded it to the lower court in 1964, “in light of appellant’s status and performance as a common carrier, the transportation characteristics and marketing pattern of these seasonal agricultural products, and the demonstrated ability of appellant to perform the services.” This allowed Willis Shaw Express to transport its goods to at least thirty-five states.

The success of the company led to it being acquired by the Del Monte Corporation of San Francisco, California, in 1969. Shaw remained with the company, acting as the chairman of the board of the affiliate and vice president of trucking and distribution systems for Del Monte. However, in 1983, along with a group of family and employee investors, Shaw repurchased the company from Del Monte, but it was purchased four years later by Comcar Industries of Auburndale, Florida. What is now Willis Shaw Logistics still operates out of Elm Springs in the twenty-first century.

For additional information:

Dontat, Pat. “Willis Shaw Frozen Express—Big Business in a Small Town.” Northwest Arkansas Times, February 9, 1966, p. 25.

“Willis Shaw, Del Monte Affiliate.” Northwest Arkansas Times, July 3, 1969, p. 1.

J. Mason Toms
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program

Staff of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas

Last Updated: 01/11/2022

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