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Bismarck company with century-old roots sells for $150 million; Midwest Motor Express to keep name

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Midwest Motor Express President and CEO Marlin Kling stands by a 1940s-era International truck once used by the company.

A century-old Bismarck freight company grown from a stable of horses and a fleet of wagons that delivered coal and cream recently sold for $150 million.

Midwest Motor Express, with Bismarck roots dating to 1918, was purchased by Knight-Swift, a publicly traded carrier listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Midwest will continue to operate from its Bismarck headquarters under the same name. Its sister company, Midnite Express, will do the same from its Fargo base.

“Knight-Swift was very complimentary of our success and longevity,” MME President and CEO Marlin Kling said.

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Midwest Motor Express offices at 5015 E. Main Ave. in Bismarck.

Snyder’s Dray and Transfer in 1918 used horses and wagons to deliver coal, cream, gravel and freight. In 1938 the name changed to Midwest Motor Express, and expansion continued with the acquisition of several truck lines over the decades. Midwest today covers the Upper Midwest and the Northwest, providing freight services for clients whose orders are less than full loads.

The company plays a key role in providing just-in-time service to companies, which in turn allows them to keep less inventory on hand when they know quick delivery is available, Kling said. Midwest delivers ag products, manufacturing parts, chemicals, tires and some food products, among other items.

“There is nothing in the city of Bismarck that doesn’t end up arriving by truck at some point,” Kling said. “If it arrives by train, the final mile is by truck.”

Phoenix-based Knight-Swift operates 20,000 trucks and serves mostly the truckload sector, Kling said. The company saw the potential in the less-than-load sector after buying another carrier, AAA Cooper Transportation, and expressed interest when MME was offered for sale. MME and Midnite Express bring about 800 employees to Knight-Swift and add 446 trucks to its fleet.

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The early days of Midwest Motor Express in Bismarck.

The North Dakota companies were family owned, and the ownership was spread among more members as new generations were added. The sale to a larger parent company with a successful track record brings a new outlook to the North Dakota companies, Kling said.

"I think the employees feel like they have a home now," he said.

Midwest has weathered the Great Depression, recessions and three wars, Kling said. The company placed an order for 10 International Harvester tractors before World War II, but shipment was delayed when IH stopped production to support the war effort. Midwest kept its place in the production pecking order, and after the war had early delivery of the tractors.

“We were approached by a number of companies that wanted to buy our position,” Kling said. “We didn’t sell because we needed the trucks, and that got us out ahead of other carriers because we had more stable delivery equipment.”

A similar competitive push has helped the company stay up to date on technology. Today, GPS systems track trucks and trailers in real time, and electronic logging systems keep them compliant with regulations. The company gets immediate notifications of truck engine overspeeding, low oil pressure or maintenance needs.

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The early days of Midwest Motor Express in Bismarck.

A driver’s job is not one “that everybody wants or could do,” Kling said. They are in and out of their trucks all day in all types of weather, and get freight to its destination while most people are sleeping. The company has built a reputation by consistently meeting delivery deadlines.

“That’s how good these guys are,” Kling said.

He attributes MME’s longevity to the Midwest work ethic, solid business acumen and honesty.

“I’m very proud of our employees and what they’ve been able to accomplish,” Kling said.

Reach Travis Svihovec at 701-250-8260 or Travis.Svihovec@bismarcktribune.com

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