If you're in trucking, chances are you've heard of the famed Little America truck stop in Wyoming. But you may not know much about Earl Holding, who turned the truckstop from a money-losing business into a success within the first year nearly 50 years ago.
A story in the Feb. 13 edition of The Salt Lake Tribune profiles the 72-year-old Holding, who parlayed that small truckstop start into millions.
Holding and his wife, Carol, pumped gas and waited tables at the truckstop when they were in their early 20s. Carol still has the first dollar bill she received as a tip.
Almon, Hyrum and Stephen Covey, brothers who had expanded the truckstop in the late 1940s, knew Holding as a young Mormon boy who did yard work at their apartment buildings in downtown Salt Lake City. (Yes, Stephen Covey is related to the well-known author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People -- his grandfather.)
Holding was given a small stake in the business. He turned it around, partly by stopping skimming by suppliers. They counted everything. He also planted hundreds of trees, added pumps and expanded the hotel. And he started using the service station's tankers to sell fuel wholesale.

In 1965, Holding, who had by this time bought out the Coveys, built a second Little America in Cheyenne, WY. Soon he branched out into hotels. In 1967, at age 41, he borrowed heavily to buy a closed refinery in Casper, WY. In 1976, he bought another Wyoming refinery and other assets that were formerly part of Sinclair Oil. Once the seventh largest oil company in the world, Sinclair was bought by the Atlantic Richfield Co., or Arco. As part of the acquisition, Arco sold some of Sinclair's assets to Pasco Inc. Holding bought most of those assets from Pasco. Again, he borrowed heavily. But the gamble paid off. The refinery is very profitable.
Today, the Tribune says, Holding is rumored to be a billionaire, though he eschews the typical lifestyle of the rich and famous. He is right now in the midst of two of the most ambitious projects of his career, neither of which has anything to do with trucking or the oil business.
Holding is spending an estimated $185 million to build a world-class hotel in Salt Lake City and more than $100 million to transform Ogden Valley's snow basin into a ski resort. The family is believed to be the largest landowner in Montana, and the business includes hotels, ski resorts, refineries, gas stations and ranches, including the Sun Valley ski resort in Idaho.
But it all started at a truckstop in southwestern Wyoming.