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FreightWaves Haul of Fame: There’s no freezer burn at pioneer Frozen Food Express

A Frozen Food Express tractor. (Craig Wendt Collection)

Cy Weller was an attorney who served in the U.S. Army during World War II. After being discharged in 1943, he returned home to San Antonio, Texas. The office space he had used previously was unavailable; instead of finding new offices and reestablishing his legal practice, he set the ball in motion for the formation of Frozen Food Express.  

Weller began purchasing and reselling surplus and/or salvaged military equipment. He sold surplus Army vehicles to trucking companies. While doing this, he noticed that those who were attempting to transport perishables (such as fruit and seafood) long distances could not secure adequate transportation for their goods.

While there were refrigerated trucks (reefers) in use in the trucking industry, there were no trucks capable of hauling frozen commodities that needed to stay frozen. After World War II ended, Weller purchased surplus military refrigerators that had been used to ship food internationally and installed them in trailers. He created some of the first deep refrigeration trailers utilized in the United States.

An FFE shirt patch.

Weller decided to go into business for himself, and he began pursuing the necessary permits to operate a trucking company in Texas. Permits from the Interstate Commerce Commission, or ICC, were also needed to operate trucks on interstate routes. While requesting a permit in 1946, Weller met Roger Malone, who had founded a trucking company called Frozen Food Express Industries, Inc. (FFE). Malone had decided to leave trucking, and Weller bought the company. By November 1948, Weller had control of the company and its permit.

The business grew over the next 14 years, and in 1962 Weller asked his brother Edgar, also an attorney from San Antonio, to help oversee operations, particularly a new truckload route that hauled meat to California and brought fresh produce back to Texas. Weller also asked Stoney Stubbs, his brother-in-law, to join the company in 1962.

Another FFE patch.

FFE’s growth continued over the next decade. In 1971 Frozen Food Express Industries, Inc. became a publicly traded company. The company grew organically and via acquisitions, eventually becoming one of the largest refrigerated trucking carriers in the United States. FFEX stock regularly outperformed its competitors.

The Wellers had left the business, and Stoney Stubbs had served as its president for some time. He retired from FFE in the late 1970s. His son, Stoney (Mit) Stubbs, Jr., began working on trucks at the company while he was still in high school. He joined FFE full-time in 1960 after graduating from Texas A&M University. He started as a less-than-truckload (LTL) dispatcher, worked his way through the ranks, and became President in 1979 and CEO and Chairman of the Board in 1984.

An FFE tractor-trailer. (Photo: Craig Wendt Collection)

Fast-forward to 2013. In August of that year, FFE was purchased and taken private by Duff Capital Advisors, owned by Thomas and James Duff of Columbia, Mississippi. The Duffs own several businesses, including KLLM Transport Services, LLC which is based in Jackson, Mississippi. The over-the-road truckload division of FFE was merged into KLLM in late 2013. 

A third FFE patch.

Jim Richards serves as FFE President and CEO and has been at the company since 1986. FFE continues to concentrate on its core business – temperature-controlled LTL. FFE is the largest asset-based temperature-controlled carrier in the U.S. Growth has continued; the company opened a new service center in Xenia, Ohio, in 2019 and another service center in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, in 2020. FFE has 17 locations across the country providing cold storage and break bulk services. 

Together, FFE and KLLM are the largest temperature controlled carrier in the nation.

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Scott Mall

Scott Mall serves as Managing Editor of FreightWaves Classics. He writes articles for the website, edits the SONAR Daily Watch series, marketing material for FreightWaves and a variety of FreightWaves special projects. Mall’s career spans 45 years in public relations, marketing and communications for Fortune 500 corporations, international non-profits, public relations agencies and government agencies.