Sophie Sanchez was a part time trucker, serving on a volunteer Denver municipal committee that was seeking ways to commercialize Loney Air Force base. It had been mothballed three years earlier.
No comprehensive deal was reached however, and the state decided to award leases to inquiring businesses on a piecemeal basis. Sophie applied to rent a small hangar for use as a freight warehouse, hoping to exploit the fact that North Denver sat at the junction of major highways in the middle of the country.
Tired truckers brought her service to capacity almost immediately.
Sohie offered a hub for palletized freight to truckers who preferred to turn around in Denver and return to their home city, key advantages to these “independents”. The likelihood of having to make a long return trip empty was greatly reduced, and for the same distance covered they returned home profitably instead of enduring another cheap motel on the wrong coast, often waiting days for a possible load.
Word of this option spread quickly within their tightly knit world, and Sophie leased four more hangars with a fleet of forklifts within a year.
The Loney Hub is now the largest freight terminal west of Chicago, and occupies more than 60% of the old air base in eleven oversized buildings, including a renovated mess hall and trainee barracks that can house up to 450 truckers each day. It is the largest truck stop in the world and the independents who use it can’t say enough good things about Sophie and the beehive she has founded.
“She saved my life” confides Jack Waling of Seattle “because the road wasn’t being kind to me. Too many dead legs and pills to make it through the night, after a week of waiting. Bad food and bad company, never at home. Bad money too, fuel and the competition were killing me.”
He pointed affectionately with both hands at the mess hall.
“I have a dozen good friends in there now, a warm bed in a clean room tonight, shower, breakfast and a full load back to Seattle tomorrow morning. And as long as I deliver there will always be loads for me, I’ve got standing now. Sophie’s an angel and she built this up to save us.”
Sophie herself is more modest. A trimly elegant woman of 45 with a grade nine education, her office is up where the former control tower grants her a bird’s eye view of the hundreds of long haul units backed up to her hangar-sized warehouses. The barracks and mess hall buildings hum and glow in the night air as they might have in wartime.
“This whole thing was an accident” she says, “My husband and I were tired of the road and just wanted to run a small warehouse to make a living, be at home for our kids. Now they work here with me.”
“We were just lucky in that Denver’s so well positioned, with the major highways going through it, and independents need a way to compete against containers – the railroads – with the price of fuel now it’s become a desperate way to make a living, dead legs killing everybody, so much waste. We’re reviving palletized freight again and bringing some order and certainty to our lives.”
Freight hubs at airports are not a new concept. FedEx pioneered the idea in 1973 when its cargo planes flew to Memphis and back from their home city each day. It’s a simple but powerful concept that eliminates the threat of returning home empty.
But FedEx and UPS are package delivery services, despite their claims, and the railroads depend on commodities and container movement. There was no hub for traditional freight mounted on pallets – which is the bread and butter of independent truckers.
Later that evening Sophie checked into the mess hall as she does each day, to gauge the size and mood of her clientele. The long tables are loaded down with every variety of the meat-and-potatoes fare that truckers favor. Beer is available with dinner on the condition that no other alcohol or drugs will be brought into the Loney Hub.
No money changes hands, every trucker is given an account with no questions asked, there are very few bad debts. Two meals and a mandatory room cost less than $50 each day, and basic loading and storage fees are assessed. Meanwhile 220 Loney employees run forklifts and complete the paperwork around the clock.
By breakfast the trucks will be loaded, documented, and fueled, fresh for their familiar ride home in daylight.
During her walkthrough Sophie is given continuous waves of applause as she is recognized. One trucker stands up to say something, but can only gesture his thanks.
His tablemates shout their approval in his stead.
(By S. de Sturber, 2011)