Rachael Van Horn
Woodward, Okla. —
If you talk to Mike Stone about his company Beaver Express, the life-long trucking industry worker talks with a level of love that is not often found in business these days.
That really isn't too surprising though.
The 55-year-old president of Beaver Express started his relationship with the now well known, premier package and freight distributor, sweeping out and loading and unloading trailers as a young lad for his maternal grandfather Clyde Reeves.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Beaver Express is celebrating its 70th year in business this month.
Stone, who is the third generation owner and president of the freight company, sat down with the Woodward News recently and journeyed back through the intriguing history of the once tiny trucking operation that in the early 1940s only carried newspapers and some small packages from Oklahoma City to the panhandle.
“Back then, Mistletoe was the dominant company in the area and the one that hauled newspaper for the Daily Oklahoman,” Stone said. “They announced that they were going to abandon that route (from Oklahoma to the panhandle) and my grandfather worked for OPUBCO at the time.”
So Stone’s grandpa, Reeves, sort of desperate to find someone interested in carrying the news to the panhandle approached Floyd Hamm and convinced the entrepreneur to take on the route between Woodward and Beaver. Borrowing from a page in railroad lore, the company was named after the furthest stop on the line.
Beaver Express was born.
Stone said soon after, Hamm sold the company to a man named Clarence McPherson.
Under McPherson’s tutelage the company grew its service area to include other panhandle and northwest Oklahoma communities such as, Guymon, Arnett and Shattuck, Stone said.
“After that, Clarence sold the company back to my grandfather,” Stone said. “That was in 1960 and it was then that my father Larry Stone went to work for his father-in-law (Reeves).
Stone said the two men began growing the company rapidly with service to the entire Texas panhandle from a new primary terminal in Amarillo. Service also grew into eastern New Mexico as well as almost all of southwestern Kansas.
“ Of course that was when we started working there, me and my brothers,” Stone said. “My three brothers and I all worked when we were big enough to push a broom,” he said. “We swept the dock and swept trailers and when we got older we got to unload and load trailers and then my teenage years I learned to drive a truck.”
But this business, the freight industry, is tough and not all companies survive.
“Our industry,” Stone pauses and lets go a sardonic chuckle before he continues. “It is very competitive and if you do not do things right you won’t be around.”
Stone said, while he has not looked at the figures lately, of the top companies that were doing business in 1975 only about three are still doing business today.
So if you ask Stone, it is no small thing that Beaver Express, with its humble beginnings, survived. Especially, he said, during 1984 when a “Goliath” in the industry -Mistletoe - changed management and went on the offensive against the little “David” company that was Beaver Express.
This turned out to be the most critical threat to the company, Stone said.
Worse, was that the threat came from what had been a long-time close relationship with Mistletoe - truly the company that had, so many years prior, when it stepped aside, been the catalyst for the birth of Beaver Express.
Now, it was publicizing its plans to return to providing freight service in all of Beaver Express’s primary areas of service.
“That was when we signed a contract with Edmond Motor Freight, which allowed us to establish that terminal in Oklahoma City, then we opened one in Wichita and then in Tulsa,” Stone said.
Stone said it was like going to battle during that time.
“The shipper would tell us that Mistletoe had told them they would get next day service,” Stone said. “We told them, you ship it with us and we will beat them and 99 percent of the time we did beat them.”
Stone said it was a tense time for the small company.
“We were fighting for our survival basically,” he said “Our trailer that comes up from Oklahoma City to Woodward that services all of the panhandle …That first day, it had six shipments.”
Now the company handles between 2,800 and 3,000 shipments per day and has 370 employees, Stone said.
With services now from Dallas all the way north to Wichita, east to part of Arkansas and west into New Mexico, and handling about $49 million in revenue, where does the “Little Company That Could” go next?
For Stone, who gets pinged daily from folks who would like to see him stretch further east into Arkansas and further south of Dallas, the answer is a slow and steady progression. First, he wants to continue work toward perfecting his service.
“We are good but we make mistakes, we aren't perfect,” he said. “So I have hired a quality improvement guy and we think the investment in him will pay off in reducing our damaged freight claims and in other ways such as safety for our employees,” he said.
But save some “tweaking” here and there, Stone couldn't be more pleased.
He credits his employees and most certainly, his loyal customers in their ability to survive when so many other trucking companies were unable.
“Hey, you don’t get to 70 years in this business without doing a few things right.”