Family-owned Mid Continent Trucking of Denison, Iowa, notified drivers and employees recently that after 24 years, the refrigerated carrier was ceasing operations two days after Thanksgiving because of worsening economic conditions and tumbling freight rates.
An email about the closing created some confusion, but the company says all displaced employees who want to work have since found jobs.
“It was a situation where economics made the decision for us that it was time to get out of the trucking business,” co-owner Brian Wickersham told FreightWaves.
He and co-owner Ted Wickersham, his brother, emailed truck drivers, maintenance workers and office personnel on Nov. 16, alerting them of the company’s plan to close by this past Saturday.
In the email to the company’s 25 employees, the Wickershams stated: “You may have heard some rumors about some changes going on at Mid Continent. If not, there is something going on and this notice is to let you know that Brian and Ted have sold our equipment to Western Flyer Express.”
The email stated that drivers would be “contacted directly by a Western Flyer Express (WFX) representative offering driving positions with their company. According to our contact at WFX, drivers would be based out of the Omaha/Council Bluffs area.”
Based on the email, a few former Mid Continent employees say they were under the impression that WFX was purchasing the entire company.
However, Brian Wickersham said the email inaccurately stated that the company had sold its equipment to Western Flyer Express. In fact, the equipment, including 20 tractors and 50 refrigerated trailers, was sold by Wickersham Brothers Inc. to RWTL Capacity Solutions, which offers a lease-to-own program for truck drivers.
Western Flyer Express, doing business as Western Flyer Xpress (WFX) and RWTL Capacity Solutions have a common owner. Both companies are headquartered in Oklahoma City.
“If we had known how that email was going to be interpreted, we would have had an attorney or someone write the email that we put out to the employees because that was not how it was intended,” he said.
WFX CEO Randy Timms also disputed the information in the email sent to Mid Continent Trucking employees.
“Yes, a leasing company with common ownership to Western Flyer Xpress purchased the trucks and trailers because we heard the equipment was possibly going to auction, but we had no interest in their customers or terminals,” Timms told FreightWaves. “Of course, we are always looking for drivers and our recruiting department contacted the drivers on the list Mid Continent provided to us as well as other trucking companies, but our understanding was that none really wanted to come over because our drivers stay out a few weeks at a time while theirs are used to being home every week.”
Western Flyer Xpress has 1,094 tractors and the same number of drivers, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s SAFER website.
Mechanic Larry Brown, 40, of Bellevue, Iowa, worked for Mid Continent Trucking for two years. He’s part of a skeleton crew working to remove company decals and trailer numbers before equipment delivery.
He started out as a wash bay tech but was moved into the shop after Ted Wickersham saw something in him and offered to help train him as a truck mechanic.
After coming to work for Mid Continent, Brown said Ted Wickersham offered to pay for his extensive dental work.
“Ted didn’t have to do that for me but he paid for everything and wouldn’t allow me to pay him back,” Brown told FreightWaves. “That’s just one example of kindness both Wickershams showed their employees.”
The Wickershams also worked to find Brown a well-paying job working on reefer trailers that also provides a training program, he said.
“Ted also set me up with about $1,000 worth of gauges that I would need for my schooling,” Brown said. “He also helped another mechanic find a job that would help him pursue a career in the welding industry.”
Paul Cromwell, safety and risk manager at Mid Continent, said he has been in contact with all the drivers.
“Everybody who wants to work has found a job,” Cromwell told FreightWaves. “I have a couple people weighing their options — they want to take a couple of weeks of paid vacation to kind of evaluate what they want to do next. I’ve been on the phone since the announcement, talking to different companies that have called and asking them what they pay, and then I’ve been getting the information out and emailing it to the drivers to help make it as seamless as possible for drivers.”
While FMCSA’s SAFER website stated the company had 33 power units and 38 drivers, the company was down to 25 employees, including truckers, at the time of its closure.
“We consider our employees as family, but sometimes decisions get based on family more than they do anything else,” Brian Wickersham said. “I would rather be able to pay my employees while I still have the money than wait until I don’t have it and then have to tell my employees that I can’t pay them.”
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