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"Hindsights"

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On the Road with Basse Express

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

In the 1860s a round trip between Fredericksburg and San Antonio in a freight wagon took 3 weeks on the average, if the weather cooperated and the creek didn't get out. By 1960, Basse Express diesel trucks made the 70 mile one-way trip from San Antonio to Fredericksburg in a couple of hours hauling everything from thumb tacks to toilet paper.

Basse Express was one of the most recognizable businesses in the Texas Hill Country. The name on the side of the truck was like a rolling billboard.

Texas Hill Country - Basse Express diesel trucks
Basse Express diesel truck
Photo courtesy Gillespie County Historical Society

Robert Lee Basse of Fredericksburg had been fascinated by internal combustion engines since he was old enough to twist a wrench. He served as an army mechanic in Europe during WWI. His job was to keep the quartermaster trucks rolling between the supply depot and the forward areas.

After his discharge in 1919, Basse came home to Fredericksburg. He went into the produce business, but he never lost his love for tinkering with engines.

The Fredericksburg Railroad had taken over the shipping business from the old teamster wagons in the early 20th century, but delays and derailments made rail service unreliable. Local businesses needed a quick dependable shipping service between Fredericksburg and San Antonio, but the railroad wasn't the answer.

Robert Basse knew what trucks could do. He had watched them haul supplies to the front during the war. In 1927 he bought a used truck and went into business hauling freight between Fredericksburg and San Antonio.

The company offices in Fredericksburg were at 315 East Main Street (today Fischer and Wieser on Main). The San Antonio terminal was at 1311 S. Flores, 2 miles south of the Alamo.

In the early days the road between Fredericksburg and San Antonio was not paved. Trucks had to ford the creeks and rivers. A one-way trip took most of a day.

Over time the roads and bridges improved. Diesel engines gave trucks more power. Travel time between Fredericksburg and San Antonio dropped to a few hours.


By 1937, Basse Express offered overnight service between Fredericksburg and San Antonio, 30 years before Federal Express took the idea nationwide. Basse Express was one of the most recognized freight lines in this part of Texas.

Then in September 1937, Robert Basse died at age 39. The future of the company was up in the air until Robert's wife Alma (Hopf) took charge.

Basse Express grew under Alma's leadership. Soon the company extended the freight route to Llano and then to San Saba.

By the end of WWII, Basse Express trucks were a part of Fredericksburg's lifeline. Almost all of the food, clothing and consumer goods sold in Fredericksburg came to town in a steady stream of trucks.

Fredericksburg was an isolated community for much of its history. Basse Express trucks connected the town more solidly to the nation's commercial network.


In 1949 a business arrangement turned daily operations of Basse Express over to Ruben Rode, owner of Rode Freight Lines in Mason. The local terminal was located at 215 East Park Street (formerly the Peanut Warehouse). Rode ran Basse Express until Alma Basse and her second husband Elgin Herbort resumed operating the company in 1951.

By 1956 Basse Express shipped from Fredericksburg to San Antonio, Mason, Eckert, Llano, Cherokee, San Saba, Lometa and Lampasas. In 1964 Basse Express began freight services 3 days a week (Monday Wednesday and Friday) to Harper. The company offered 24-hour delivery service to any of its shipping points.

Alma Basse Herbort, ran the company until the family sold Basse Express to Southwest Motor Transport of San Antonio in 1970.

These days most of us take trucks for granted. About the only time I think of trucks is when I'm driving down a crowded I-10 in my compact car and the bumper of an angry Peterbuilt suddenly fills my rear-view mirror.

At those anxious moments I have to remind myself that the American economy would screech to a halt without trucks. Everything I eat and everything I wear comes to town in a truck. Hill Country life as we know it could not exist without trucks.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" February 14, 2023 Column



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