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The History of Hot Shot Trucking in North America

September 5, 2023 | By
The History of Hot Shot Trucking in North America

Businesses facing shipping emergencies have long counted on hot shot trucking to fill the gaps.

But the hotshot field didn’t just pop into existence as it is today. Rather, this bastion of emergency shipping developed slowly over time, emerging and expanding in tandem with the rest of the trucking industry. From the earliest days of pre-automotive transport to the modern era of brokers, reshoring, and JIT production systems, hot shot providers have tailored their services to the most pressing logistical challenges of their eras. By learning this history, businesses can better appreciate the true dynamism of hotshot trucking and understand what it has to offer in any environment.

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Hot Shot Trucking Prehistory

Understanding the history of hotshot trucking, ironically, starts with looking back toward a time when there were no trucks! Long before the invention of the automobile, farmers, miners, and businesses still needed to bring supplies in and ship inventory out, and so they relied principally on horses and carts. And much like with modern logistics, while most of their items could travel on regular, planned routes, shortages and emergencies happened. In these situations, independent carriers who had horses and carts at the ready could make a world of difference for their customers. By loading up items and delivering them as needed, these carriers filled in key logistical gaps, reduced risk, and helped an early market economy to emerge.

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Localized Supply Chains

Starting out, this system, like most economic activity, was highly localized— supply chains spanned only short distances, they tended to involve the same small groups of customers, and hot shot providers made themselves known by word of mouth. But as industrialization pushed forward and the economy became more complex, businesses increasingly had to bring in supplies and send out finished items over long distances. This process sped up even further with the introduction of the railroad, which expanded the range at which businesses could operate by orders of magnitude but also made delivery schedules increasingly complex. Hot shot carriers, often stationing themselves at major rail and river hubs and catering to new and expanding businesses, eased the growing pains of this changing economy.

The Birth of the Trucking Industry

While hot shot distribution has a long history in the pre- and early industrial era, true hotshot trucking requires, of course, a truck! Trucks became common as a means of supply in the United States after World War I. The US military had used them to great effect supplying their forces in unfamiliar or underdeveloped terrains; entrepreneurs saw their potential and, once back home, quickly found commercial uses. As state road building programs expanded during the 1920s and 30s, so too did trucking, which began to seriously compete with the railroad as a major source of inland transport. Then trucking absolutely exploded in the 1950s, when the construction of the Interstate Highway System radically reduced driving times over even the longest distances.

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Standard Carriers

Initially, trucking was the domain of standard carriers, who made regular deliveries over fixed distances. Nevertheless, as trucks became more affordable and were adopted by a growing variety of individuals and companies, they began to be used for a wider array of purposes. Modern hotshot trucking slowly began to emerge, as independent drivers and some carrying companies began to realize the benefits of keeping trucks available to make flexible deliveries as needed. The more their customers came to rely on road transportation, they realized, the more that interruptions in road transit would cost them. Emerging hotshot trucking entrepreneurs helped their customers cut down on those costs, keep shipping smoothly, and take full advantage of the interstate economy.

Hot Shot Trucking Oil Industry

A Surge in the Seventies

While hot shot trucking has been around as long as there’s been trucking, it didn’t truly begin to take off until the 1970s. During that decade, a number of crises in the American oil industry revealed the need for greater efficiency and flexibility in business logistics. The “peak oil” crisis of the early 1970s involved many US oilfields becoming suddenly unusable, putting increased pressure on the fields that were still producing. The OPEC embargo, which limited the ability of US consumers and businesses to import oil from abroad, only further increased that pressure. Considering how important oil was to the US economy at the time, it was absolutely essential that the remaining oil fields produce at full capacity.

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Logistical Limits

As US oil fields picked up the pace of production, however, they quickly discovered some serious logistical limits to doing so. Oil extraction depends on heavy, expensive, precise equipment, and when oil production increases, the demand for that equipment increases in tandem. Oil producers who needed to expand or replace their available equipment couldn’t just afford to wait for new devices to come in as part of regular supply shipments, because that would leave valuable oil in the ground for days or even weeks. Instead, they needed someone to bring in that equipment immediately, whether from the manufacturer, another oil field, or anywhere else it was available.

In this environment, hot shot truckers were indispensable. Carriers or even individual drivers with trucks at the ready could respond promptly to calls from oil companies. They could move equipment between oil fields, bring in essential parts and tools for repairs, deliver new devices from machinery manufacturers, and otherwise ease the pressure points that the oil industry was facing. In this way, they allowed producers and consumers to weather the storm of the 1970s more easily, thereby reducing negative economic fallout from the crises of the era and setting the stage for a robust recovery.

Flexible Deliveries

The success of hotshot truckers and carriers in the oil industry soon made it clear to other kinds of businesses how valuable this field of flexible deliveries could be. Construction companies, advanced manufacturers, and myriad other firms faced similar problems of supply bottlenecks and disruptions. They thus began calling on hot shot carriers as well, leading to an increase in demand for this service. As more truckers and carriers became interested in hot shot deliveries, the sophistication of this field began to grow. Hotshot trucking became less dominated by individual truckers and small firms; instead, larger carriers began to break into this field, as did brokers who could coordinate multiple individual drivers or even multiple carriers.

Technology Takeoff

As hot shot trucking has become increasingly common and increasingly sophisticated, hotshot truckers, carriers, and brokers have sought to keep their industry at the cutting edge. They have thus taken full advantage of new technologies as they have developed over the years, notably adopting:


Global Positioning Systems

The rise of global positioning systems or GPS has made it easier for hot shot carriers and brokers to chart out the best possible delivery routes ahead of each order. Brokers have used this technology not only to compare the length and speed limits of potential routes but also to cross-check with weather trends, traffic patterns, road work, and other considerations that can affect the speediness and safety of deliveries. As a result, hot shot companies have succeeded in squeezing delivery times down to the shortest legal lengths, all without sacrificing safety.


Instant Communication

As remote communication has advanced from car phones to cell phones to VOIP, it has become increasingly easy to talk to drivers in detail no matter where they are in North America. This has allowed companies that provide or organize hot shot trucking to operate on a larger scale, coordinating deliveries across the continent just as easily as they plan a local shipment. Improvements in communications technology have been particularly valuable for hotshot brokers, who enlist multiple carriers to complete deliveries in different regions. Instant communication has also facilitated better communication between hot shot companies and their clients. If a client has a question about an order or needs to change the delivery instructions, the hotshot trucking broker or carrier can get in touch with the driver making that shipment. They can communicate the question or instructions and then promptly follow up with the client, resolving all their concerns while updating them on when to expect the delivery.


Myriad Vehicles

When hot shot trucking started out, it mainly involved small pickup trucks; smaller orders would be placed entirely in the beds of these trucks, while for larger orders, the driver would hook the truck to a larger trailer using a “gooseneck” rig. While both of these delivery options still exist, trucks themselves have become much more varied in recent decades, and hot shot trucking providers have taken full advantage of this variety. From the smallest of sprinter vans to midsize “cube” trucks to the largest dry vans and tractor trailers, hot shot trucking carriers and, especially, brokers have myriad different types of vehicles on hand. This means that on even the most sudden emergency shipment, the broker can choose a truck that is large enough to carry the entire order, but not so large as to leave any extra space. Thus, hotshot trucking customers can avoid spending extra money on space they don’t use, limiting the cost of these services.


Highest Standards

By adopting these new technologies, hotshot trucking brokers and carriers have been able to stay ahead of their customers’ changing expectations. Modern businesses can no longer place an order and then just wait for it to move forward. They need to receive updates and make changes in real time, as their own operations rely on precise information and quick reactions. Between its cavalier adoption of new technology and its generally flexible approach to operations, the hot shot trucking industry has kept up with these new client needs. Year after year, businesses have been able to expect the highest standards of safety, speed, and customer service from their hot shot providers.

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Efficient, Profitable Solutions

Hot shot trucking is all about finding the most efficient, profitable solutions to even the most pressing emergencies. It’s little surprise, then, that hot shot trucking brokers and carriers are so adept at adapting to new trends and challenges in modern logistics.

As the technology keeps changing and the economy continues to develop, hotshot trucking providers will never stop discovering new ways to save their clients time and money.

Present & Future

The need for hot shot trucking continues up to the present day, and hotshot brokers and carriers have paid close attention to the challenges and opportunities of modern shipping. The most important trends of the present day include:

The Rise of JIT

The Rise of JIT

Short for “just-in-time,” JIT is a production design system in which businesses order supplies as needed rather than keep a lot of inventory on hand. The goal is to cut storage costs and improve flexibility in the face of changing consumer preferences, and for the most part, JIT achieves this. But this system also makes businesses completely dependent on reliable shipping, leaving little margin for error when a delivery fails to arrive on time. This vulnerability creates an incredible opportunity for hotshot trucking coordinators. By serving as backup carriers ready to go when a shipment falls through, hot shot providers restore a healthy margin of error even for businesses wholly committed to JIT.

The Great Freight Shortage

The Great Freight Shortage

As a result of the pandemic, inflation, fueling challenges, and a variety of other issues, the United States and its neighbors have experienced a severe freight shortage in the early 2020s. This has led to frequent disruption of supply chains and sapped profits from many businesses, particularly those that are larger or that have more diffuse logistics. This trend is of course a challenge for hot shot trucking, but it has also created significant opportunities for hotshot providers who are able to maintain some operational flexibility. Hot shot trucking brokers are particularly well suited to navigate and overcome the freight shortage. By coordinating large networks of vehicles and carriers, hotshot brokers can ease local shortages, connect available carriers to clients who need them, and ensure an efficient distribution of freight.

The Return of Manufacturing

The Return of Manufacturing

After decades of outsourcing, manufacturing firms are increasingly bringing their business back to the United States. This has some downsides for hotshot trucking, notably in that it reduces demand for imported manufactured goods and, by extension, demand for emergency shipments from port cities. But it also creates a wealth of opportunities, particularly in the cities that host all these restored factories. Manufacturing operations are complex, resource- and equipment-intensive, and predicated on tight schedules; such processes inevitably create severe bottlenecks, which hot shot tucking providers are perfectly positioned to ease. Here, too, the rise of hot shot brokers is particularly important, as big-picture coordinators are in the best position to identify reshoring-related shifts in demand, alert carriers to new opportunities, and put those carriers in touch with their new customers.

Carrying On the Tradition

HotShotTrucking.com is proud to be part of the hot shot tradition and aims to bring that tradition to new heights! As a hot shot trucking broker, our role is to coordinate carriers across far-flung locations. We’ve carefully assembled a network of affiliated carriers in every state and major metro area of the United States, as well as in every province of Canada and state of Mexico. This has in turn given us access to a wide range of vehicles in the locations we serve, meaning we can seamlessly match our clients to the vans or trucks best suited to carry their items. We’ve adopted all the latest trucking technology, letting us stay in touch with our carriers and their drivers wherever they are on the continent, react quickly to disruptions, and keep our deliveries on schedule. And with our extensive experience serving clients from myriad industries for years, we’re familiar with all the challenges that JIT, reshoring, freight shortages, and other trucking industry trends bring.

HotShotTrucking.com is, in short, committed to staying at the cutting edge of what is already a dynamic field. Whenever you need an emergency delivery, just give us a call, and we’ll leverage our massive network to get your supplies to you with time to spare. For more information on our hot shot trucking services or to place your next order, visit our website today or call (800) 604-2511.

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