"My father was a quiet Methodist, but he believed and lived by the adage in Luke 12:48, 'From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked"" (personal interview with former Kansas governor Bill P. Graves, William H. Graves's son).
William H. Graves, the longtime leader of Graves Truck Line, was renowned throughout Kansas and even the nation for his success and leadership in the transportation business, but also for his philosophy of honesty, generosity, and service. He gave time and money to many organizations around his community, in addition to serving on state commissions and even at the national level on the American Trucking Association.
In 1932, with the Great Depression sweeping across the nation, the Graves lost the family farm to foreclosure. Looking for another way to get by, Graves's father picked up an old truck and started carrying livestock between nearby small towns for a nickel a mile. In the mid-1930s, Graves went into business full-time with his father as they gave up farming and threw themselves into hauling livestock. The business expanded, growing with the country as transportation became more important than ever. When his father passed away in 1939, Graves took over the role of general manager and began to grow the company from a local hauling business into one of the largest regional trucking companies of its time. He managed it remotely during his three-and-a-half-year service in the Army, and during this time acquired operating authority that made it possible to expand the business. When it incorporated in 1949, he owned most of their equipment and all operating authority, and he could have justifiably claimed a large portion of the company. However, in a perfect example of his business intuition as well as family devotion, he split the shares evenly among him and his brothers, allowing each to work with a singular unified focus. Each put their full effort into the company, but each contributed something different. "Each brother worked as hard as he could at the tasks for which he was needed and best suited" (James T. Graves).
Nicknamed "Mr. Transportation," Graves became famous in the trucking industry for his intuitive judgement and expertise in business decisions, as well as his leadership by example and business philosophy. His talent and instinct in acquiring new operating authority, buying competitors, and connecting authorized routes to work with ICC route regulations allowed the business to grow and expand quickly. His head for numbers, his ability as a general manager, and his willingness to take calculated risks made the Graves Truck line a huge success, and it grew to become one of the largest regional trucking companies in the nation.
However, what made Graves stand out from his peers was his philosophy on the role of a business leader. He firmly believed in respect and fair treatment for his employees, and was devoted to the company, his family, and his community. "[My father] was a very hard worker and often said that a man should never ask his employees to do a job that he himself wouldn't, or hadn't already done" (Bill Graves). Combined with his hardworking mindset, devotion, and innovation, he believed in sharing his success with others. "Part of my fathers [sic] philosophy was to make it possible for employees to not only have good paying jobs (and be treated with respect), but to allow them to earn ownership shares in the company. Over the almost 50 years that Graves was in business, many of the almost 2500 employees were able to acquire shares of Graves stock... Dad believed that if you take care of your people, they'll take care of you" (Bill Graves). Graves's belief in sharing his success created opportunities for thousands of families in small-town Kansas at a time when opportunities were hard to find. Thousands of families were able to send their children to college because of the money from Graves Truck Line. Small towns around Kansas were able to develop and grow because of the service the company provided. Although trucking may not be the first thing people think of as exciting, it's hard not to find Graves's impact on Kansas inspiring.
Graves's generosity and spirit of community was, and continues to be, deeply felt by the Salina community that he and his family lived and worked in. He gave significant financial contributions and volunteered often with organizations in Salina, including the YMCA and Kansas Wesleyan University. The impact that his legacy has had on my life is difficult to measure. My grandparents attended Kansas Wesleyan, and as first-generation college students, it was a big opportunity in their lives. It allowed them to eventually send my mother to college, which opened so many opportunities for her and subsequently for me. His support of the YMCA provided Salinans with a place to spend their time and participate in the community. Graves gave not only his money but also his time, volunteering with church, school, and community organizations. His lasting legacy of involvement and leadership helped shape Salina.
William H. Graves is inspiring to me because of his work ethic, his business genius and his constant motivation to share his success with the community. He once said that "there wasn't much to Graves but a bunch of kids who wanted to work." It makes me think of the small business I run with my sister, selling cotton candy at local events. In addition to making cotton candy, I keep inventory and finances for our business. While it's nowhere near the scale of the Graves Truck Line, Graves is an inspiring figure to look up to, showing what you can do with hard work and perseverance. He is a wonderful reminder that, at the end of the day, a business's role isn't just to profit oneself, but to serve the community.
Blue Valley North High School
12200 Lamar Ave
Overland Park, KS 66209
Lilly, Judy Magnuson. The Graves Truck Line Story. Mennonite Press, Inc., 2012.
Schafer, Quinten A., and Bill P. Graves. "Personal Interview with Bill P. Graves." 1 Dec. 2022. "William Henry Graves Obituary." Obituary,
"William Graves Obituary (2005) - Salina, KS - Wichita Eagle." Legacy.com, Wichita Eagle, 19
Mar. 2005, https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/kansas/name/william-graves- obituary?id=15741027