Colonial Freight to Close after Nearly 80 Years

Refrigerated Truckload Carrier Was Founded in 1943
Colonial Freight Systems truck
Colonial Freight Systems plans to stop making deliveries in late August, when its vehicle tags expire. (Colonial Freight Systems)

[Stay on top of transportation news: Get TTNews in your inbox.]

After running and owning a trucking company since 1943, the McBride family says it’s time to close the business.

Colonial Freight Systems of Knoxville, Tenn., will sell its equipment and the longtime husband-and-wife partnership are retiring.

“The unprecedented market for used equipment provided the opportunity to take advantage of the timing,” Colonial President and CEO Ruby McBride said. “We had about 200 trucks on the road when we made this decision a couple of months ago.”


Ruby McBride

Colonial is in the process of winding down its operations and stopped delivering freight at the end of August, when its vehicle tags expire. However, McBride said the office will remain open until all bills have been paid and all of the business issues have been settled.

The leader of the specialty refrigerated carrier said her husband, Tom, the chairman of the board, is 81. His mother, Lura, who helped found the company during World War II with her late husband, Clarence, is 101.

“It was a difficult decision to make. It was pretty much everything my husband has known. We have been running this company for 25 years,” McBride said. “What has been important to us is finding jobs for our drivers and our other employees. That’s been important for us, not just to close the doors and walk away, but to take care of our people.


Lura McBride stands ready to spin the propeller on an airplane in the early days of the company. (Photo courtesy of the McBride family)

“My mother-in-law is going to be 102 in October. My husband is going to be 82. It’s just time. We’re ready. We want to spend sometime with his mother. That is one of the things we really want to focus on. She is still chairman of the board-emeritus. She was highly involved in the company during her life. It truly been a family business. She understands it is time. We’ve been very blessed. We’re so thankful for all of our employees and our customers.”

McBride said Colonial is transitioning some of its dedicated divisions and lease operators to Purdy Bros. in Loudon, Tenn. The employees are being paid a severance package, and Colonial is assisting in transitioning employees and remaining lease operators to other companies.


Tom McBride

“The company has always been owned by the McBride family. Clarence started the company in 1943, and it’s always been in our family,” she said. “Unfortunately, we just didn’t have another family member. We have four kids, but none of them are in the trucking business. They all have their own careers, and we just didn’t have another family member who could step in.”

McBride said the company has looked at several options the past several years concerning possible sales or a merger, but they were unable to reach an agreement, so instead it is planning a liquidation.

“I expect we will have the equipment sold by the end of next month,” she said. “I think it will probably have everything wrapped up by the end of the year.”


A Colonial Freight Systems truck from the early years of the company's operations. (Photo courtesy of the McBride family)

For 80 years, the company has been running truckload freight and mostly operating a fleet of refrigerated trailers. The company’s founder said they made that decision because Clarence McBride believed it would offer stability for his family, as people always need to eat, no matter the condition of the economy.

“Mostly we have been running food and some medical products,” Ruby McBride said. “Clarence ran the company from 1943 to 1981, then an uncle, John Hill, ran it until 1996, and then it was run by my husband for 17 years, and I’ve been president the last eight and a half.

“It’s going to be very hard to walk away from. I hope to remain active in trucking with the ATA and the Tennessee Trucking Association, so I am going to stay involved. Tom is ready to retire, so it’s bittersweet.”

Want more news? Listen to today's daily briefing below or go here for more info: