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March 15, 2017 11:45 AM, EDT
Cowan Systems Purchases Dick Harris & Son Trucking
Harris Trucking

Jim Harris, whose family owned Dick Harris & Son Trucking Co. Inc. for nearly 50 years, sold his business at the end of February to Cowan Systems, another family-owned company, which began in 1924.

Dick Harris began with one truck in the late 1960s, and his son ran the company for more than 40 years, doing business as Harris Trucking near Lynchburg, Virginia. But at age 74, Jim Harris said he’s ready to retire, and his son wasn’t interested in taking over.

Harris has known Cowan CEO Joseph Cowan for decades, and the two companies belonged to the same insurance captive, company representatives told Transport Topics. A captive refers to a group created to buy insurance at lower costs than one can generally do on its own — in this case, a coalition of more than 50 trucking companies.

Cowan heard rumors about Harris wanting to sell and reached out to inquire and make an offer, both sides told TT. Baltimore-based Cowan Systems ranks No. 62 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in the United States and Canada, generating more than $400 million in revenue per year.

“Their culture and our culture are aligned in how they treat customers and people. We share a lot of the same customers. Plus, they are a private-owned, family-run business, too,” Harris told TT. “I’ve still got some good years left that I want to enjoy by doing some of the things I failed to do in the last 40 years.”

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Harris Trucking was a small truckload carrier with about 125 trucks and 350 trailers. American Trucking Associations defines small truckload carriers as those with less than $30 million in revenue. Cowan is a larger fleet, with more than 1,200 trucks and 4,000 trailers.

“Jim ran a lot of freight to the Northeast and Midwest, and Cowan has a lot of freight going south. So when his business goes north, we just flip it around and go south with Cowan freight. It’s melding very well into our network,” said Cowan President Dennis Morgan.

He added that because Harris Trucking had strong compliance and safety records, every driver was hired to join Cowan. The office staff also was retained. According to Morgan, customers responded positively to the acquisition, and the transition was a simple one.

“Both companies are very family-oriented, and I explained to the employees that the only difference between us is that we’re just a little bigger. Otherwise, our business philosophies are very similar. It’s a really nice marriage,” he said.

Cowan already replaced the tractors to reflect the change in ownership, but Morgan said it’ll take up to six months to replace the trailers with lightweight models that consist of composite wood floors, aluminum wherever possible, no plywood liners and four super-size tires.