KNOXVILLE — Jim Haslam arrived at Knoxville’s L&N train station in the fall of 1948 with a footlocker and a football scholarship.
The 17-year-old high school football star from St. Petersburg, Fla. — who had been recruited by legendary coach Robert Neyland — had to walk from the downtown station to the University of Tennessee’s football stadium, where he would live in a spartan dorm room under the east grandstand.
He received no hero’s welcome. With that short walk, though, Haslam launched a remarkable six-decade sojourn that has left him, at age 80, the patriarch of one of the most powerful families in Tennessee.
The family’s business, Pilot Flying J, has become one of the country’s largest privately owned companies, a $20 billion empire that is run by his older son, James A. “Jimmy” Haslam III, and has a chain of truck stops and gas stations from Vancouver, British Columbia, to South Florida.