The Superior Express -

Editor's Notebook

 

September 16, 2021

Monday morning’s mail brought to the newspaper office a subscription renewal from Margaret Houtz of Wray, Colo.

Her renewal card reminded me of a nice old gentleman who I had the privilege of serving while working for my father at Blauvelt’s Station. The gentleman was Bill Houtz. My parents said he had operated a truck line bringing merchandise from the city wholesalers to stores in Superior and the surrounding area.

I was surprised to learn he had operated a truck line for he didn’t fit this little boy’s truck driver image. I thought all truck were big, burly men.

I was convinced women and little boys could not drive those big trucks for it took real he-men to operate the rigs in the days before power steering. I also thought it took considerable skill. The truck’s transmissions were a mystery to me. I was accustomed to floor mounted shifters used on the older automobiles and the smaller trucks the farmers used. All vehicles had clutches which were hard for my short legs to reach.

But the big trucks had multiple sticks on the floor that had to be manipulated to connect with all the gears. I knew it was difficult for some days I heard gears grinding when drivers attempted to shift the big rigs and did something wrong while traversing Blauvelt’s Hill. Most all of the big rigs had to be shifted between the station’s north and south driveways. Sometimes, when the driver missed his gear, the rig would come to a complete halt and the driver would have to shift to the lowest gear and hope he could get the rig moving again. I’ve watch the truck-tractor shake and bounce with the struggle to get the load moving, as the engine was reved up and the clutch engaged.

I marveled that a small, gentle man like Bill Houtz could master such a truck.

After Houtz retired, Elmer Sealock operated the Superior Truck Lines. His company offered daily service between Superior and shippers in places like Omaha, Lincoln and Hastings. It was exciting to have one of the big trucks stop at the station. I liked to watch as the men wrestled the shipments off. Out here in the rural area we didn’t have things like forklifts and pallet jacks to move the freight. It was levers, pipe rollers and the ingenuity of the men involved.

According to one of Sealock’s drivers, one of the most challenging jobs the firm had was the time they delivered a Model 00 flatbed Miehle press to this newspaper. The press was built in 1899 or before and used to print books in Chicago before being moved to Superior where it was used to print newspapers for about 15 years. I don’t know where Superior Truck Lines loaded the press but it may have been Chicago. Shorty Messersmith used his Diamond T wrecker truck to lift the pieces out of the truck and put them through the front window of The Express building.

I helped remove that press in 1975 and it was a job I don’t want to repeat. We used the R&M Body Shop wrecker to load the pieces I dragged to the street with a tractor.

Sealock sold the freight line to H. G. Frear who operated it as Superior Transfer. Gerald Canning purchased the business and moved it to Fairbury where it was operated as Canning Truck Service. Fred Arnold, who is today publisher of the Belleville Telescope, was the last operator of the business. When he shut it down, it was one of the oldest, if not oldest trucking companies of its class, in Nebraska. I suspect the company’s claim to that honor could be traced back to the Houtz trucking operation.

The picture printed with this story was taken by Leon Mariska of the Mariska Photo Studio in October of 1951. The lettering on the side of the truck was undoubtedly painted free hand, perhaps by a local sign painter named Charlie Blair. In the 1950s, Blair had a shop located where the New Horizons apartment house is now located. I watched him paint a number of signs for my father. His skill was amazing. With only minimal guides he could free hand signs of various sizes. He never ran out of room for his letters before completing a line.

Today we make signs and letter trucks at The Express but nothing is freehand. We employ fancy computer driven equipment. That equipment also amazes me and I have great respect for the artist who knows how to operate it.

If the pictured semi-trailer was to be lettered today, we most likely would employ a process known as wrapping. The artist would make the design on a computer and send it to the wide format printer which can print in all the colors of the rainbow. As an alternative we could use individual vinyl-cut letters with a result similar to what was done with paint and brush in 1951. But the wrap technique makes it possible to include a photo of the Superior skyline.

 

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