Not a household name, but in the early years of the trucking industry John L. Keeshin was at the top. At age 15 he bought a horse and dray that started his journey in freight transportation. In 1936 he was president of Keeshin Transcontinental Freight Lines with 14 different divisions that operated in 18 states. Keeshin routes ran from Kansas City, Missouri and Omaha, Nebraska eastward to Boston, Massachusetts and Washington, DC. Its’ operations included 77 terminals and 1,400 tractors and trailers in 1936.
One of the multiple divisions was Keeshin Motor Express Company of Illinois, which also operated in Iowa and Missouri. During the fall of 1935 this division opened a new terminal in Des Moines, Iowa at 313-315 East Fourth Street.
Keeshin pioneered the use of putting company trailers on railroad flat cars. The Rock Island Railroad hauled Keeshin trailers to points 180 miles from Chicago, to cities such as Peoria, Illinois; Davenport, Iowa and the Tri-Cities area of Rock Island-Council Bluffs- Moline, Illinois.
In November 1945 John Keeshin resigned as president of the company and severed all connections with the firm because of “impossible labor demands”. Less than three months later the company filed reorganization bankruptcy with assets of $533,241 and current liabilities of over $1.2 million.
In October 1949, John Keeshin and David H. Ratner, another big trucking industry leader, bought Hayes Freight Lines of Mattoon, Illinois. Carl H. Ozee wanted to retire as president and chairman of the board of Hayes and sold out to Keeshin and Ratner. Once they took over, a meeting of stockholders was held to elect officers for the company and to reduce from nine to three, the number of company directors. Keeshin became chairman and treasurer, Ratner was named president and Ozee remained with the company, not as an owner but as Vice President.
Under the new leadership Hayes Freight Lines acquired several other trucking companies, expanding routes into new areas including Kentucky and Tennessee. Just about nine years later, Hayes would be sold again. This time the purchaser was McLean Trucking Company Of Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Keeshin would later form another trucking company bearing his name, He started Keeshin Transport System based in Toledo, Ohio. Several years later he sold that firm to Murphy Motor Freight Lines of Minnesota.