Johnnie Bryan Hunt Sr., 79, a former truck driver who founded one of the nation’s largest trucking companies, died Dec. 7, 2006, at Northwest Medical Center in Springdale, Ark., after hitting his head on ice in a fall Saturday.

A sharecropper’s son, he began J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. in 1969 with five tractors and seven trailers.

By 2004, when Mr. Hunt stepped down from the position of senior chairman, the company was a billion-dollar business with more than 16,000 employees and a fleet of 11,000 trucks.

After he retired, Mr. Hunt pursued interests as a private investor in real estate, construction and development. He and his wife, Johnelle, were the largest shareholder of J.B. Hunt stock.

Mr. Hunt expanded the business by courting Wal-Mart Stores Inc. owner Sam Walton, who eventually became Mr. Hunt’s largest customer. All of Mr. Hunt’s workers were nonunion and still are. He saved on fuel costs by giving bonuses to drivers who drove 55 mph.

In 1980, the trucking industry was deregulated, and J.B. Hunt Transport took off. Three years later, the company went public, and by 1983 it had $63 million in revenue.

Mr. Hunt introduced computers to truck drivers in the 1990s. Drivers used onboard computers to communicate with fleet managers, ending the search for telephones to find out about the next load.
In 1995, Mr. Hunt retired as chairman of J.B. Hunt and became senior chairman.

After retirement, he was involved with the Pinnacle Group, which most recently opened Pinnacle Hills Promenade, a 1 million-square-foot retail and office center in Rogers, Ark.

Mr. Hunt was born Feb. 28, 1927, in Heber Springs, Ark. He quit school at 12 to help support his family, earning $1.50 a day at his uncle’s sawmill. He also sold the mill’s wood shavings to poultry farmers for ground cover in their chicken coops.

He later carried a wad of $100 bills in a gold money clip and regularly handed them out to people he thought needed the money.

“I was hungry once. And once you’re hungry, you’re different,” he told Forbes magazine in 1992.
Mr. Hunt joined the Army at 18 and was recruited for officers training school. He declined, which he later called the biggest mistake of his life. “It was my only real chance to get an education,” he said.

Mr. Hunt said the most desperate time of his life came in 1949, when the sawmill went broke, leaving him $3,600 in debt. He got a job driving a truck between Texarkana and Fort Smith and by 1952 had paid off the debt.

He and Johnelle DuBusk were married that year and settled in Texarkana.

In addition to his wife, survivors include two children.

SOURCE: Associated Press
Saturday, December 9, 2006