PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE, Man. – Jake Neufeld started Paraclete Transport in 1993, and ‘praise the Lord’ for that.
As current company president Norm Thiessen told Truck West, Neufeld, Thiessen’s uncle, launched the transportation business to do more than move dry bulk freight between Western Canada and the mid-western US. He also wanted to help young people get their Class 1 driver’s licenses who could not afford to pay to attend a driving school on their own.
Which brings us back to the company name – Paraclete.
“The name was chosen by my uncle who wanted ‘PTL’ for ‘praise the Lord’, and the word Paraclete is a Greek word for ‘helper’,” Thiessen explained.
Paraclete Transport has evolved since its beginnings in mid-90s with a single truck and a 42’ tandem hopper trailer.
A couple years in, Neufeld landed a line haul contract with RPS Ground Service (now Fed Ex Ground) supplying a truck and team service for return trips from Winnipeg to Toronto.
Then in 1999, Neufeld asked his nephew to come on board and help in the office finding return loads, doing billing, accounts payable and payroll.
“At that time, there was a friend of my uncles who was starting a business and required transport of dry bulk product to places farther than we had gone before, as well as he needed dry van loads moved,” Thiessen said. “We rented a dry van to see if this would work for us and we added another truck and a convertible hopper/dry van so we could transport bulk product south and dry skidded product back to Western Canada.”
Company ownership moved into the hands of Thiessen and his wife, merging with his father-in-law’s business in 2002 when Neufeld decided it was time to sell; he remained with the Paraclete as an owner-operator and company director. Tragedy struck in 2005 when Thiessen’s father-in-law passed away unexpectedly, leaving Thiessen and his wife to run the company on their own.
“Since that time, we have been on a slow, steady growth program and are presently at 35 trucks and 60 trailers,” said Thiessen, adding that 20 of the 35 trucks are owned by the company and 15 are owner-operators. “We presently are a dry, nonhazardous van carrier serving both the full-load and less-than-load market in Western Canada to mostly the US Midwest and Southeast.”
Times have changed since Thiessen’s uncle opened the company in 1993, particularly when it comes to fuel efficiency.
Thiessen said one of the biggest accomplishments Paraclete achieved in the past year has been their ability to employ new technologies to reduce fuel consumption, and they plan on continuing this effort.
“Both in anti-idling equipment, as well as air management equipment that can be added to trailers that does not require driver involvement,” Thiessen explained. “Without these improvements, it would be very difficult to remain in business.”
In 2012, the Portage Daily Graphic featured Paraclete Transport as a company that was saving fuel with the use of new technologies, specifically with the use of the Smart Truck UT-6 system installed on all its trailers to help reduce drag at the rear end of the unit and lessen side to side swing of the trailer due to wind. Thiessen said there are a number of reasons he has utilized the Smart Truck UT-6 system, including the fact that there has been no need for any maintenance on the units, unlike with the use of side skirts.
“We purchased a number of trailers with side skirts, and within six months, had damages to them to the point some had to be replaced, and saw the amount of road debris that was caught on the cross members of the trailer causing premature corrosion,” Thiessen said. “I was also concerned about the fact there was reduced air movement over the brakes and tires causing more heat buildup and wear.”
Thiessen also said he noticed empty trailers being pulled side to side in high winds with the use of side skirts.
Paraclete saves about .5 to .7 miles per gallon of fuel with use of the Smart Truck UT-6 technology.
But challenges in today’s highly technological truck market remain.
With Manitoba’s brisk winter temperatures, Thiessen said from an equipment perspective, there is a long way to go before diesel particulate filter (DPF) systems are up to snuff.
“The cost to these slowdowns and breakdowns in reduced service to the customer, and the down time on the road is obviously something that is not calculated when ‘saving the planet’,” said Thiessen. “With all of the sensors that are on our trucks, it takes very little to have a truck rendered useless till it is inspected and serviced before being able to continue on the trip it was dispatched out on.”
Another challenge for Paraclete has been falling rates on spot freight, something, as a small carrier, the company depends on greatly.
Thiessen said a large increase in the number of US freight brokers bidding on freight has driven the rate down for spot freight in their efforts to find the best deal.
“We, thankfully, have many customers and brokers that we have worked with for many years, and they are working at keeping the rates at a profitable level,” said Thiessen. “With the rates dropping like they have, I expect there will be some casualties with some carriers that cannot weather this rate storm as we saw in 2008/09.”
Despite a future that he sees as being one which will force trucking companies to reduce capacity but have the same amount of equipment on the road due to increased regulation, Thiessen maintains a cautiously optimistic approach.
“My vision is to be a high quality carrier that uses high quality equipment and professional drivers that take pride in the work they do,” he said, adding that Paraclete must continue to provide its customers with service that they can rely on. “I do not have a vision of competing to be the largest carrier, but to pay attention to all the details. We will continue to grow at a manageable pace so we do not have to risk the whole company for growth.”
The sudden passing of Thiessen’s father-in-law in 2005 was the result of cancer, and Paraclete has decaled one of its trailers with the cancer awareness logo to bring attention to the disease.
The company is also supports the local Youth for Christ programs for Portage la Prairie youth, as well as the Salvation Army’s Christmas food drive and helped transport shoeboxes for Samaritan’s Purse from Vancouver to Calgary.
“The reason we are involved in these charitable works, is because we have so much in this part of the world, and there are those who do not have enough to make it through the day without help,” Thiessen said. “We do not have to go to other countries to find those who need help. My Wife and I are very involved in our church, working with youth and other related ministries. We have been given many opportunities and feel we have an opportunity to give back and to help with mentorship of some youth who are missing this at home.”
Those at Paraclete are ‘helpful’ indeed.
Sonia Straface is the associate editor of Truck News and Truck West magazines. She graduated from Ryerson University's journalism program in 2013 and enjoys writing about health and wellness and HR issues surrounding the transportation industry. Follow her on Twitter: @SoniaStraface. All posts by Sonia Straface