American Red Ball – Long Distance Moving Company » Our Rich History

Moving Your World Since 1919! Only a small percentage of U.S. businesses have been in business as long as we have. American Red Ball has been providing “Red Carpet Moving Service” for over 90 years because we believe customers deserve ethical and courteous treatment while receiving a superior long distance move at a fair price. It’s a simple but powerful formula that has served us and our customers well. More than that, it’s just the right way to conduct business.

Our Founder

American Red Ball was established by Ward B. Hiner in 1919 … back when trucks ran on rubber tires and it took real muscle to turn the wheels.

An early entrepreneur, Ward B. Hiner left school after the fourth grade, due to the death of his father. Hiner learned about hard work and responsibility early in life. Soon after his father’s death the family farm was lost and hard times followed. As a young man, Hiner moved with his mother, sister and wife to Oklahoma, giving in to the lure of opportunities in the west. While in Oklahoma he was instrumental in establishing the Oklahoma Stock Exchange. Other endeavors were less successful and he moved back to Frankfort, Indiana.

Unfortunately, the future there looked no better, so with $200 in his pocket, Hiner moved to Indianapolis in 1917. He began selling auto insurance for a new company in Indianapolis and became that company’s number one producer. It was while selling insurance that he conceived the idea of writing a new form of insurance, cargo coverage for stock haulers. It was a protection policy to be sold to livestock shippers transporting goods from farm communities to market. Ward presented his idea to the president of the company, who enthusiastically authorized coupon books allowing insurance coverage for shipments en route by motor truck. Hiner sold these insured Bills of Lading to the hauler, who in turn sold them to the shippers.

Realizing the potential of this type of business, Hiner soon had trucks of his own. Within six months he had formed the original Red Ball company, with 115 signed truck operators who carried a tin sign on their stock racks, “Red Ball Service.” As the business progressed he opened a Red Ball office in the old Morton Hotel on Monument Circle in Indianapolis in 1918. Evenutally, customers requested service for household goods and it was accepted as a return or to fill out the open stock racks with payload.

On May 19, 1919, (his birthday) Hiner formed “Red Ball Transit Company” and opened an office at No. 18 South Capitol Avenue in Indianapolis.

Using his old cabinet making skills from a job building shell casings at a furniture company during the war, he actually built most of the office furniture to equip his new office. In his first Red Ball phone directory advertisements, Ward used advertising copy offering weatherproof moving service for household goods in tarpaulin covered stock racks as an extra service feature.

Part of Hiner’s success can be attributed to being in the right place at the right time. As he formed Red Ball Transit Company, the U.S. Motor Truck Company, which had prospered from years of supplying trucks to the military during World War I, experienced a sudden drop in product demand; enter Hiner. A deal was struck allowing him to lease trucks. Early Red Ball trucks carried an emblem stating, “WE USE UNITED STATES MOTOR TRUCKS.” The relationship continued for several years, eventually resulting in a merger.

A Trip to New York in 1920

Growth and Innovation.

Providing innovative service and using the best equipment is nothing new for American Red Ball. Our founder instilled that into the company from the very beginning and we’ve always believed in it.

In early 1920, Hiner’s innovative weatherproof moving service led to an agreement with the U.S. Motor Truck Company of Covington, Kentucky, where he purchased twenty 16-foot straight vestibule van trucks with 10-inch solid tires, and the first electric self-starters and headlights ever used on household goods vans. These were entirely closed with tight rear doors and equipped with the first special furniture pads ever designed (previous moving vans used reclaimed bedding.)

As his business grew, Hiner opened sales offices in Chicago, Dayton, Columbus, Cincinnati and finally in New York City. In 1920 he sent a caravan of nine fully loaded vans over the hazardous, unpaved mountain roads to New York City – an arduous trip of two weeks. What we believe was the largest single assmeblage of long distance moving vans to date was met in Times Square by special police esort and the Pathe News (one of the old movie reel news services). This generated immense nationwide publicity and added great impetus to Hiner’s growing interstate system. Thus, Red Ball became truly the first interstate household mover in America.

According to Richard Hiner (Ward’s son), the trip was a harrowing one, with mostly dirt roads and trucks miring down in the mud. When the caravan finally reached Times Square one of the hard working lead vehicles finally gave out, reportedly causing a giant traffic jam, but not detracting from the accomplishment.

(The above information was taken from company records as written by a Hiner family member).

If You Want it Done Right

…do it yourself. Today, American Red Ball has our own paint and body shop to maintain our equipment to the highest standards. Back in 1923, Hiner decided trucks could be better, so he decided to manufacture his own.

1923 was the year Hiner ventured into manufacturing. He employed a well known automotive engineer, Charles Glaser, to draw up plans for two specially designed motor truck chassis for both a conventional four-wheel truck on which a 24-foot van body was to be mounted, and a six-wheel chassis of hitherto untried deisgn, on which a 28-foot van was to be installed.

The first trucks were manufactured in Indianapolis on Kentucky Avenue, but production was moved after the purchase of the Stewart Wire Wheel Manufacturing plant on Barner Street in Frankfort, Indiana. That plant would house the new truck building enterprise, as well as a division to build closed van bodies. About two hundred chassis of these “Red Ball Trucks” were actually built, but the operation was found to be impractical. However, more than one thousand bodies were sold and delivered throughout America and were considered far ahead of their time.

The trucks sold for $9,000, and were painted and identified with “Red Ball Transit Company” with the understanding that the new owner would drive for Red Ball. At that time there was no credit, so the truck was paid for before it left the factory.

As it happened, purchasers would sometimes indicate that they wanted to wait 30 days before going on the road. Thirty days later the truck would be returned (even though paid for) because the purchaser no longer wanted to handle household goods, as agreed. When inspected, it would often be discovered that floor boards had been torn up – to accommodate “special” cargo destined for Chicago and other cities.

A less well known event, according to Ward’s son, Richard, was Hiner’s brush with “the mob.” The story goes that one day Richard was in the front yard mowing grass when a black sedan pulled up. Two men inquired if he knew where Ward Hiner lived. It developed that 10 Red Ball Trucks had been discovered with $50,000 worth of bootleg whiskey on board and the “revenuers” were on the trail. During this time period, Hiner was selling franchises, wholly owned and operated by others, but authorized to use the Red Ball name. Evidently one franchisee had decided more money could be made transporting illegal moonshine than household goods. Hiner courageously cooperated fully and established the innocence of his firm and personnel, but not without a price. Reprisals from the so-called “Purple Gang” included bombings and threats in attempts to ruin the company and Hiner. For many years following his testimony, he reprortedly carried a silver plated pistol on his lap while driving.

In 1924, in order to give faster road service to highway equipment, Hiner purchased a “Jenny type” airplane to carry parts to drivers broken down on the road. While the venture didn’t last long it highlights Hiner’s innovative entrepreneurship and the company’s early and ongoing commitment to service.

Trucking & Red Ball Grow Up

As business thrives, the government and banks step in.

Hiner was very active in encouraging the Public Service Commission of Indiana (now the Utility Regulatory Commission) to regulate intrastate and interstate motor truck and bus traffic, which eventually became a reality not only in Indiana, but also in the nation.

As a highly respected trucking pioneer, Hiner was invited by the Governor of Indiana to serve on the Steering Commmittee of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  He was a prime consultant on the feasibility of constructing the first turnpike in the state of Pennsylvania, circumventing the often impassable mountain roads of that state. The plan evenutually came to fruition and we still realize the benefits today.

A story is told that, in 1925, Ohio passed a state law called the Keystone Ruling. That law stated that only Ohio vehicles could travel on Ohio highways. In response, at Hiner’s urging, Governor Jackson made an off-the-record ruling that any Ohio vehicle found in Indiana as of noon Saturday would be confiscated and the driver and passengers would be arrested. This led to meetings between representatives of the two states and the first Public Utility Commission of Ohio (PUCO) was formed.

From there, Hiner became more politically active. He ran unsuccessfully for Governor of Indiana and for U.S. Senator from Indiana. He appeared before the U.S. Senate Special Transportation Committee several times, giving counsel to the U.S. Government on a proposed national highway network as well as advice on truck transportation legislation.

Hiner’s success had a great influence on the attitude of the nation’s banks regarding the potential of motor truck franchising, which had previously been considered highly experimental and unsound. A testimony was a proposition from Chase National Bank in New York. They offered to finance Hiner in the establishment of a national trucking company to operate from coast to coast. He refused the offer as impractical because of the state of the roads, perhaps not a bad decision for the time. On one early trip to Chicago, for example, a truck sank up to its axles in the mud and had to be abandoned until spring, when it could be hauled out. Even gravel roads, once out of the city limits, were a luxury seldom encountered.

WW II – The Red Ball Express

As the country recovered from the Depression and was shocked into economic stimulus by World War II, American Red Ball moved forward into difficult times with a new leader and renewed strength.

In 1936, there was a break in Ward Hiner’s previous rugged good health. At the same time, America was deep in the years of the Great Depression. Red Ball suffered like many other companies and on Jan. 3, 1939, Red Ball reorganized and Clarence Kissel was elected president, a position he held until 1963.

That brings us right up to World War II. As the war intensified, shortages began to occur. Items like meat, shoes, some clothing, gas, tires, etc. began to be strictly rationed. Of course, this made it hard for everyone, but particularly for companies like American Red Ball whose business was dependent on being able to purchase truck parts, tires and gasoline.

Fortunately, American Red Ball was considered essential to the war effort. As such, we were issued B ration stamps (Certificates of Necessity). We were required to report the number of miles for each move and were then issued enough stamps, at five gallons of gas per stamp, to complete each trip. A certain number of reported miles had to be accounted for before new tires were issued.

Though we were never called to do so, American Red Ball was on constant alert to haul troops. Also, while general household goods moves came to a virtual standstill, there was an ongoing need to move military personnel from base to base. Most local movers had contracts with bases in their area for a variety of services.

With the end of the war, returning military personnel were anxious to move forward. With the help of the G.I. Bill and other special programs, they began rebuilding their lives, buying homes and moving into them. Large numbers of troops and their officers were required in occupied areas, and officers were being transferred back and forth, both overseas and stateside.

Trivia Question: Are American Red Ball Transit Co., Inc. and the famed Red Ball Express of the war years one and the same?

Answer: No. Although Red Ball operated a freight division called Red Ball Express during the early ’80s, the military coined the name of their supply operation from the old days of railroading, when a large red ball painted on the outside of a rail car indicated priority traffic. Any car so marked was meant to be expedited. Surprisingly enough, this form of identification was revived by the military in recent years in answer to shipping congestion problems in ports around the world.

Interstates and Television

The ’50s was a decade of growth and economic prosperity, well deserved after years of depression and war. Trucks were bigger and better and entirely new products and services were available. In response, America made great strides in infrastructure and interstate travel became the norm.

According to Melvin D. “Don” Duncan, Jr. (president of Red Ball in the ’90s), the opening of interstates opened up a new world in long distance trucking. “As a matter of fact, in 1956 I believe it was, I was sitting in my truck about 40 miles west of St. Louis, about 12th in a long line of traffic. Cars and trucks were lined up at a ribbon cutting ceremony which would open the first leg of Interstate 70. Rolling onto that highway was a real experience.”

Interstates soon crisscrossed the country and the motor truck industry came into its own, with more cost effective, faster trips. Soon the trucking industry had cut deeply into the market traditionally earmarked for railroads, starting the real decline of those once powerful companies.

The great exodus out of the cities and to the suburbs had begun. As suburban homes were built all across America, moving companies jockeyed for position and their share of the market.

The early days of television were exciting and far different from today, but American Red Ball took full advantage of this newest form of advertising. For instance, Red Ball sponsored the popular “Queen for a Day” program. As the show moved from city to city, offering to make some lucky woman “Queen for a Day,” the stage props were transported on a specially painted American Red Ball van, with great publicity advantages.

Meet Mr. Doo

In 1961, American Red Ball adopted Mr. Doo (reportedly modeled after Melvin D. “Don” Duncan, Jr.) as our mascot. He served proudly and honorably carried the Red Ball banner for many years.

Due to ill health, Mr. Kissel (president since 1939) retired due to ill health. His son, C.S. Kissel, Jr., assumed the position of president for a brief time.

On August 27, 1964, Robert L. Hiner, the son of founder Ward B. Hiner acquired 100 percent of the company’s stock and became chief executive officer and president. A vice president and stockholder for many years, Hiner was nationally prominent in the motor truck transportation industry.

Perhaps the greatest and longest running advertising program American Red Ball ran was sponsorship of cars, drivers and events connected to the famous Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. The “greatest spectacle in racing” is located in our hometown, so sponsorship was almost destined. While American Red Ball supported auto racing for many years and rubbed shoulders with the greats of the sport, two names will always be special to us. They are Eddie Sachs and Graham Hill.

When the historic, “Gentlemen, start your engines” echoed through the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May 1964, Eddie Sachs was seated in the American Red Ball Special, No. 25. An agent for American Red Ball when he wasn’t racing, Eddie had been a professional race driver for many years and had a well-respected name, both in moving and racing. The green flag dropped and Eddie rolled forward to begin his 8th Indy 500, from sixth row, center position. Tragically, Eddie’s race ended quickly on the second lap as he came out of the 4th turn, crashed, and was killed. The Eddie Sachs Memorial Scholarship was established in 1968.

At the Indianapolis 500 in 1966, Graham Hill drove the American Red Ball Special to victory! Starting on the outside 5th row, with a qualifying speed of 159.243, Hill was up against favorite Mario Andretti who held pole position with a qualifying speed of 165.899.

Though racing will always hold a special place in our hearts, over the years successful advertising campaigns partnered us with sports legends like Dick Butkus, Oscar Robertson, Hallie Bryant, Jerry West, Frank Beard, Pete Rose and more.

International Expansion and VietNam

Unquestionably, the greatest achievement for American Red Ball in the ’60s was the establishmetnt of Red Ball International in 1968.

Under the leadership of Director Don Ricketts. Red Ball International has been a “total service” company since it was formed. In establishing the International division, Red Ball extended our red carpet service between overseas areas in door-to-door containers, which are essentially trucks without wheels.

During the VietNam war, American Red Ball again did our part for our troops. Besides the usual willingness to transport Red Cross contributions at Christmas and other times, “Operation Entertainment” was established.

“Operation Entertainment” was a fresh variety show that visited different stateside military installations each Friday evening. American Red Ball moved the television equipment, props and lights in a special High Value Products van. VietNam was known as the “televised” war and the show was telecast nationwide on ABC.

On Dec. 2, 1975, Robert L. Hiner became chairman of the board and his son, Dan S. Hiner, was named president. In November of 1979 Dan Hiner passed away and Elmer Ostermeyer was elected to the position of president. This was our leadership as we entered the ’80s, a turbulent time as the trucking industry underwent deregulation.

New Ownership and Deregulation

Two major changes took place in the ’80s that would have far reaching effects. The company was sold to its executives and the industry was deregulated.

In January 1985, an agreement for the purchase of American Red Ball Transit Co., Inc. was reached and a holding company, Red Ball Corporation, was formed by company executives. The buyout was completed on March 15th.

The new ownership and management team included: Walter E. Saubert, president and general manager of Red Ball International; Melvin D. “Don” Duncan, Jr., president of Red Ball Van & Storage; Ralph E. Davis, president and treasurer of Red Ball Corporation and Dalton A. Burdge, president and general manager of American Red Ball Transit Co., Inc.

The passage of the Motor Carrier Act of 1980 ushered in a new era for our industry and our vibrant new management team was up to the task. The post-1980 regulatory environment saw the beginnings of price/service options and vastly increased levels of carrier competition.

Moving and the Information Highway

The ’80s and ’90s brought changes in ownership, deregulation, computers on every desk and the internet.

The ’80s began with a regulated industry and the Hiner family in control of American Red Ball. Before the decade was over the industry was deregulated and former executives were running the company.

Of those executives who originally purchased American Red Ball, soon only Walter E. Saubert and Melvin D. “Don” Duncan, Jr. held shares in the privately held corporation.

These two were firmly grounded in the nuts and bolts of running a moving company, but had great foresight in preparing the company for a new millenium. Under their guidance the company soon had a personal computer on every desk, streamlined and automated carrier computer functions, created a new brand for American Red Ball World Wide Movers and ushered the business onto the information highway through the launch of a company website.

Today customers simply type in to access 87 years of moving experience.

By 1994 Mr. Duncan had retired and Mr. Saubert sold the corporation to Atlas World Group. Mr. Saubert became chairman of Atlas World Group and American Red Ball remained an independent company operating under a new corporate umbrella. However, Atlas World Group had their own domestic moving division and their own corporate culture. In 1999 Atlas World Group offered to sell American Red Ball Transit Co., Inc. to American Red Ball executives (sound familiar)? Ownership transferred to Katrina Blackwell, president, and Dave Combs and Brad Beal, vice presidents, in April 2001, just in time for the new millennium.

The New Millennium

Under new ownership, with over 60 years of combined moving industry experience between them, a fresh new breeze blew through the corridors at American Red Ball.

The years under Atlas World Group were good ones, with the obvious benefits of being part of one of the largest carriers in the country. However, the flexibility to make immediate decisions and work more closely with agents, drivers and customers was something we missed.

Today’s management can react more swiftly to change, which is beneficial, because change has been constant since they took the helm.

We have modernized our fleet’s design, our marketing, our business practices and more, while retaining the core values established by our founder, Ward B. Hiner, so many years ago. Each generation of leadership has stamped American Red Ball with their own vision, but has shared an ongoing ethical commitment, while striving to provide consistently improved long distance moving service.

The most sweeping changes the industry has seen in 50 years have occurred in the past five years, in the areas of consumer regulations, Hours of Service, tariffs and military business.

As a company that focuses on quality, community awareness and customer satisfaction, American Red Ball welcomes public scrutiny and has been proactive in establishing procedures that benefit our customers, agents, drivers and employees.

From that first multiple shipment that stopped traffic in Times Square back in 1920 to the shipment we’ll move tomorrow, one thing has never changed and will never change at American Red Ball … that’s our commitment to continue to evolve in order to provide even better service to our newest customer. We hope that new customer will be you!