Midland Transports holds four generations of business leaders.
If you regularly cruise down any of Missouri’s major highways, chances are you’ve come across a big, shiny truck adorned with the logo for Midland Transports, a carrier of petroleum products and biofuels.
The trucking company was established in 1986 by brothers Tom and John Kolb, but the family business actually began when their grandfather, Jacob B. Kolb, became one of three founders of Jefferson City Oil Co. in 1928. Eventually, Jacob and his son, Cleetus, would become sole owners of Jefferson City Oil until it was passed onto Cleetus and his wife, Margaret, who ran the business throughout the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. It was during these early years when Tom Kolb, Cleetus’s youngest son, developed his love for trucks.
“In kindergarten, when I was 5 years old, I used to play with the little wooden toy trucks. Then of course with my dad, I grew up riding on the delivery trucks, so I’ve always liked trucks,” Tom Kolb says.
By the time he was 18 years old, Tom had gotten his license to drive commercial vehicles and began hauling petroleum products himself. (This being before many modern commercial driver’s license requirements.) Tom recalls some of his fondest memories being with his wife, Brenda, riding in his truck together on some of their first dates. As Tom and his brother, John, became more involved with the business, Jefferson City Oil purchased Midland Oil, which serves under the trade name Midland Transports, essentially giving the brothers two businesses to manage. Then, in 2002, the company expanded with its own service center, allowing for a cost-effective solution to servicing and maintaining its trucking fleet. By 2013, Midland Transports was taken out of the petroleum sales side of the business and made into the separate trucking business it is today.
For more than three decades, Tom and John worked through multiple business ventures, overcame many obstacles and changes, and created two of the most trusted companies in the industry — all with a growing family. Like with many family businesses, the time came for one brother to retire, and the family had to decide whether they would buy out John’s portion of Jefferson City Oil or sell the business.
“We went ahead and started looking to sell out Jefferson City Oil, which was tough because it was a three-generation, family-owned business,” Tom says.
Jefferson City Oil was sold in January 2021, but not before becoming Conoco’s oldest marketer in the world, with 92 years as a family-owned distributor.
Tom still owns and helps manage Midland Transports with his two sons, Ben and Thomas “TK” Kolb, and his son-in-law, Kyle Schrimpf. When Midland Transports first opened, they ran five semi-trucks that serviced just the Central Missouri area. Now, the business has grown to 50 trucks and trailers and services the entire state of Missouri along with several corners of the surrounding states.
“[On] November 1, we put our first truck in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where we can start our expansion in oil country, USA,” Kyle says with excitement.
On a typical day, Kyle, who joined the company in 2018, and TK, who joined the company in 2019, can be found running around the office without skipping a step. They say they’re always putting out (metaphorical) fires that may arise in the shop or with drivers on the road. But what they pride themselves in most is having superior satisfaction ratings with their customers and their drivers.
“It takes a lot of focus from these guys here in the office, in the shop, and from the drivers to make sure the 125 customers that we may reach in a day are satisfied.”TOM KOLB
“There are changes happening constantly,” TK says. “We try to keep our trucks in order, keep them running, and keep everything running smoothly. Drivers have also told us we’re the only company who hasn’t given them the runaround. If for any reason they can’t reach one of our dispatchers, our drivers can communicate with us directly. From day one, they have our cell phone numbers.”
“A tough part about it, too, is we’re a small company in comparison to some others, but each truck hauls three to seven loads a day,” Tom adds. “That means we’re seeing three to seven customers a day per truck. Whereas you may take a good size company with 200 trucks, and they don’t see 200 customers in a day because their trucks may take them three days to travel across the country. But in three days, we can reach roughly 15 customers per truck and have 15 chances to upset a customer. It takes a lot of focus from these guys here in the office, in the shop, and from the drivers to make sure the 125 customers that we may reach in a day are satisfied.”
Traveling roughly 250,000 to 300,000 miles a month with 45 drivers, Midland Transports also holds a lot of pride in the safety performance and training that goes into their business. This can be seen through their excellent driving records with the Department of Transportation and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
“Whenever the DOT gets a new officer, they’ll bring them into our lot and they’ll train their new officers using our equipment and repair shop,” TK says.
“They even had a full class for a crash reenactment on our lot the other week,” Kyle adds.
In fact, according to the company’s snapshot on FMCSA’s website, only 4% of Midland Transports trucks were out of service during the 2021 year, and the national average is more than 20%. The business also recently added a new member to the team who is determined to keep safety ratings like this going. After graduating from Linn State Technical College, Ben Kolb has joined the team working as a mechanic in the shop.
“We’re making the bigger picture,” Ben says. “We’re helping people who drive cars do anything they can — go see family, drive cross-country, anything by providing access vehicle motor fuels. I’ve always wanted to own a big truck, work on them, watch them, learn how to drive them, and learn how to work them. It just became a part of me. I wish people knew how much time and money it takes in this industry to run trucks and how much liability you have.”
With their gears shifted toward the future, Midland Transports plans to continue expanding. With the fourth generation of leaders fully committed to the company, it’s a common goal that they’ve set since joining the business.
“The fall of 2018 is actually when we put our first truck down in Cape Girardeau, which started our expansion into new markets. Three years later, we have seven in southeast Missouri, seven in Springfield, and now expanding to Oklahoma,” Kyle says.
“And Kyle found our first driver in Cape by standing on the side of the road with a sign that said ‘drivers wanted,’” TK says.
While his children and son-in-law are slowly taking more responsibility over the company, Tom has no plans to retire anytime soon and is enthusiastic about being able to sit back and watch the company grow.
“You wouldn’t believe the feeling of seeing your family all working together,” Tom says. “The other night it was about 8 p.m. and I see my youngest son come out of the shop just covered head to toe in oil and grease. It was the best feeling.”