162: A Century’s Worth of Family Business: Debbie Fick

This week on the Oakley Podcast, host Jeremy Kellett chats with Debbie Fick, the St. Louis Terminal Manager for Bruce Oakley Inc. During the episode, Debbie Fick shares the story of her family’s business, Lange-Stegmann, and how it went from packaging fertilizer to warehousing and selling wholesale fertilizer. Jeremy and Debbie also discuss the acquisition of Lange-Stegmann, the capabilities of the St. Louis terminal, how it enhances the operations of Bruce Oakley Inc. and more. 

Key topics in today’s conversation include:

  • Debbie’s background and interests (1:03)
  • The history of Lange-Stegmann (6:15)
  • Sale of Lange-Stegmann to Bruce Oakley Inc. (11:04)
  • Capabilities of the St. Louis terminal (12:19)
  • Product quality and storage capacity (17:49)
  • Investing in the Facility (21:19)
  • Benefits of location and transportation in St. Louis (24:07)
  • Family history and company legacy (26:12)

Oakley Trucking is a family-owned and operated trucking company headquartered in North Little Rock, Arkansas. For more information, check out our show website: podcast.bruceoakley.com.


Debbie Fick  00:07

I’m very grateful to be part of Oakley. They’ve treated us so well. They treated us so well that when we sold the company, they let my dad keep his office and my dad still comes to the office and I think he still thinks he owns it.

Jeremy Kellett  00:29

Welcome to the Oakley podcast, trucking, business and family. This show is brought to you by Oakley trucking headquartered in North Little Rock, Arkansas. The purpose of this podcast is to communicate with Oakley owner operators and their families by giving them up to date information concerning Oakley trucking and the trucking industry. From business advice to safety updates to success stories. Also to give an insight to outside truck drivers that might be interested in joining the Oakley family. Hi, there’s Jeremy kellett director recruiting here at Oakley trucking and I’m your host for this podcast. This is the Oakley podcast about trucking business and family. And as always appreciate you guys listening to the Oakley podcast every week we try to bring you some good information to learn more about you know the company, the trucking company Bruce Oakley as a whole and just give you some good information to be a successful owner operator day. That’s what we’re here to do. You know as Mikey, you guys that work for success and do our best to do that. But first before we get started on that, let’s do an update sponsored by Arrow Truck Sales. Arrow Truck Sales has been in business for over 60 years and a longtime partner of Oakley trucking and the Oakley podcast. Dre visor and Keith Wilson do a great job at putting you in the right truck to fit your needs and our needs here at Oakley. They carry all makes and models to choose from with on site financing through transport funding. So whether you’re a seasoned owner operator or a first time buyer, be sure to contact Keith Wilson at Arrow Truck Sales at 573-216-6047. And tell him you heard it on the Oakley Podcast. Today, you know I’ve got a little different deal going on today. Just to give you an idea, I mean, Bruce Oakley is a big company. And it doesn’t really, you know, I don’t realize it all the time. But Bruce Oakley incorporated as a whole. I mean, it’s not only, you know, a bulk company with 860 owner operators running out all over the country in Canada, but we’re also a fertilizer company, we got a grain division, got a barge division get to bagging facilities got tugboat company, a fleet of those, and about 13 river ports all over the country. I mean, this, you know, the Bruce Oakley has expanded over the years and just getting bigger and better all the time. And it’s, you know, I gotta say, it’s great. It’s in his third generation and keeping this company going. And it just says a lot that after three generations it is still prospering. And today’s episode is one of those stories. Actually, we’re going to talk to Debbie Fick, from St. Louis. She manages the St. Louis terminal. And what you know, we’re going to start out talking about the history of that terminal because I think it’s very important. How it came about and how it kind of ties into Bruce Oakleys. Vision, I guess you could say so with me is Debbie Fick. Debbie, appreciate you joining me here on Oakley podcast. Thank you. I know you said you were nervous. I am nervous. So it’s gonna be fun. But first, let’s let our listeners know a little bit about you. So kindly introduce yourself, hometown family, hobbies, that kind of stuff, please.

Debbie Fick  03:58

Sure. I live in Defiance, Missouri, which is about 50 minutes west of St. Louis. I have three children, two girls and a boy all mostly grown and flown. Almost the most. I Have two dogs. That’s a whole nother story. But my hobbies I’m very family oriented. So I just loved spending a lot of time with my kids, but I read a lot. That’s my biggest hobby. So I tried to read some of the things you read. Oh, I read everything but my kids say I read a lot of kill books. Oh, I love kill bucks or you read another kill book. I like fish fiction but I also read a lot of nonfiction. Cool. Probably read a book a week at least.

Jeremy Kellett  04:44

So the kids are kind of close by where you’re seeing them on the weekend.

Debbie Fick  04:49

They are there. Both my girls live in town and then my son is home for the summer from college but he’s not too far away. So that’s good. Yeah.

Jeremy Kellett  04:59

I experience that now my boys get on and how mama just craves those boys to come back and see her once in a while. And you know, one of them’s in Mississippi, which he comes home to pretty regularly, at least every two weeks to see us but other ones in New York City. Oh, yeah. And we don’t get to see him very often. Yeah, a couple times a year, but we’re struggling with that a little bit.

Debbie Fick  05:21

It’s very, yep.

Jeremy Kellett  05:23

How long have you been in the transportation business?

Debbie Fick  05:26

So my grandfather started the business. So really, all my life I’ve been exposed to it. And your grandfather was Henry Lange. He started the business in 1926. Along with his brother Dewey, they started a company laying brothers. And at the time, they started the company, it was a fertilizer packaging, but fertilizer looked a lot different in 1926. They were located next to a stockyard. So fertilizer was meat scraps, manure, and they processed that into a fertilizer that they bagged and 80 pound bags, and loaded on to boxcars and shipped across the country. Wow. So that’s how it started in 1926. That was my mom’s father. Okay. So then my parents married in 1959. And my dad joined the company in 1960.

Jeremy Kellett  06:26

Okay, so you’re growing up in it.

Debbie Fick  06:30

I was doing things there that I think the safety director today would not approve of, but we were climbing the piles and doing that’s how that was a great day in the summer to be able to go to work with dad so hang out there although Yep, we did. And then in the mid 60s, the company became Lang Stegman. And we packaged products for one company only. It was all in Matheson. And so you still bag and we still bag and fertilizer looked a little different. As technology changed, fertilizer became a little bit more sophisticated. It was becoming like a granular blend in 50 pound bags. And then in 1979 were the only customers we had decided weren’t going to be in the fertilizer business anymore. Well, no. So that kind of changed the look of our company. From that day forward. Well,

Jeremy Kellett  07:30

Dad had to make some decision. 

Debbie Fick  07:32

Yeah, I remember those. I remember those times at home when he first got the news. It was a scary time. There’s five kids he had to raise. So he had to really dig deep and figure out which direction we were gonna go. Or do you figure it out? He got in. He had some friends in the potash business potash corp of Saskatchewan. And they developed a unit train program where they were going to send potash down by unit train. And we were going to build some domes, 10,000 ton domes. And we started receiving fertilizer and we decided to kind of do our own thing, do more warehousing, service oriented things while also still wholesale, selling wholesale fertilizer.

Jeremy Kellett  08:26

So not bagging his MO Not going to the storage and right selling wholesale. Yep, that’s pretty smart.

Debbie Fick  08:33

So we did that. And then we built the domes in the early 80s. And then in 87, we built a river dock. So prior to that time, any product that didn’t come by train, we had to offload at a municipal dock nearby. So we built our own river dock in 1987.

Jeremy Kellett  08:52

Now, where did you just go straight to work full time?

Debbie Fick  08:56

I went to St. Louis University to get a degree in accounting. And so I was working there through college and whatnot. And most of my background there actually has been in the accounting side of it. And it wasn’t until around 2011 I got more involved in the transportation operation side of things.

Jeremy Kellett  09:20

Okay. So you learn more from dad’s teaching you he’s still active and is what’s going on there. And man, you could see a vision of you moving into more of a role.

Debbie Fick  09:32

Well, we had in 2000 We bought the agri 18. The Super U technology from IMC, which super U was an enhanced efficiency fertilizer. So we bought that in 2000. And that company grew pretty fast. And so with my accounting background, I was the controller of that company for 11 years. And we sold that in 2011. And we already were so we were left with Just our leg segment side of the business. And we already had a CFO and we had you know, so it was time for me to pivot a little bit and, and get more involved in the operations and transportation side of it.

Jeremy Kellett  10:13

So you did that for a while, I guess, up until Bruce Oakley came along.

Debbie Fick  10:19

Yes, yes. And so we were, we were kind of seeing the handwriting on the weekend had some really good years, but Dad was aging. My oldest brother was the president. And he had moved out to Idaho. And so there was a group of us that were kind of managing it. He was coming in every few weeks, but there was a group of us. But we had kind of seen the handwriting on the wall that there wasn’t really a generational answer to continuing the business. So in 2018, my mom had just passed and we had decided, you know, we were going to, we were going to look to sell the company and Bruce Oakley was the best fit by far.

Jeremy Kellett  11:01

What happened? 2019

Debbie Fick  11:04

Actually, it was four years ago, yesterday was our anniversary. So um, and Bruce Oh, that’s right. So we looked at a lot of different companies, but our employees had always been the most important part of our company. We valued the people, we had a lot of very long terms. 30 Plus, most of our employees were very long term employees. And so as a family, we wanted to make sure those people were taken care of and that we aligned with someone who, whose values are worth ours. And that’s what we found in Bruce Oakley.

Jeremy Kellett  11:43

So made that acquisition. And we brought on all the gear employees. Yes, yes. Everybody. Just everything stayed the same. Just it did. The night. It did. It was

Debbie Fick  11:55

I had a brother that worked in operations, too. And he went on to do some farming. And somehow I slid under the radar. And they haven’t asked me to leave. Yes. So we’re still here. But yes, they do everything. It was a very smooth transition, I couldn’t have asked for a better company that was aligned with the values that we held as a company.

Jeremy Kellett  12:18

Right. So what I mean, so what are the capabilities of St. Louis? I mean, I’ve been there. Once I saw you at one time I went up there a couple years ago, met you. Yep. First time I met you. And I was looking at the St. Louis side. And then we went over to the Cahokia side, too, because you just opened a year where you receive grain on the Cahokia side, right. And that’s a big operation, too. So it was pretty neat and overwhelming, actually, to see all those trucks coming in, in and out of the Cahokia set. So how do both of those play a role? I mean, what man, you’re kinda managing both of them, I guess what? Made it two separate things?

Debbie Fick  13:01

No, it is, but it’s not that I think they complement each other. For us is when Justin said, you know, we’re buying this green terminal. And it’s, you know, it’s going to be part of the Oakley St. Louis. I said, I don’t know anything about gray. But it’s really, you know, we’re just doing terminalling operations, just like we do on the St. Louis side. So I think the way it complements it, is we have a lot of people that put whole grain into the Kochia side, and then dump and then come over and pick up fertilizer on the St. Louis side. So I think they really do complement each other. But it’s, we’re just handling a product just like we do on the St. Louis side.

Jeremy Kellett  13:46

That poured on in Cahokia kind of describe that. I mean, it was pretty impressive when I wanted to wear it. And so a couple years ago, I mean, just having the course owning the property building the building, you have to where the trucks drive under it, or to the side of you know, but you’re, you’re elevated and then how many I mean, they can dump either. When we were there that day. You mean Harrison? I mean, they were in and out of there fast.

Debbie Fick  14:12

Yeah, I think they can dump it, you know, they probe that goes, they never get out of their truck. They probe go across the inbound scale, circle up to the pits, and we can load. Kornberg in a bean barge at the same time or two barges. They can all be corn, but we have six dumping stations. So they dump and then run across the outbound scale.

Jeremy Kellett  14:36

How long is it built?

Debbie Fick  14:38

It is a 60 inch belt and it’s 3000 feet. Wow. So it kind of gives our maintenance guys a little shutter but it’s 3000 feet with a belt on both sides.

Jeremy Kellett  14:53

Yeah, that’s one of the things I noticed is how far the barge was. I mean, the river was

Debbie Fick  15:00

You walk out there. It’s a long way and your way up high to just keep your eyes straight ahead. But it is a long 3000 feet of belt.

Jeremy Kellett  15:10

So how many trucks you’ll come in there you think in

Debbie Fick  15:16

January is our busiest month, which I think is a little different than the grain facilities that are down in the Arkansas

Jeremy Kellett  15:24

area. Why is January such a busy month for you?

Debbie Fick  15:27

I think that farmers spend their money in December for tax purposes. And then January. They’re selling.

Jeremy Kellett  15:37

So they bring it from their stores. They’re bringing it to you on a barge. You’re buying it from them, right. Okay.

Debbie Fick  15:45

But in January we could have I think our biggest day was in the 480s in January and an 80.

Jeremy Kellett  15:51

Trucks unload in a day. Yep. Holy cow

Debbie Fick  15:55

January’s 400 trucks usually. And then in February, march more 300 300 trucks a day. 350 It’s pretty steady for those three months.

Jeremy Kellett  16:06

Yeah, that is a lot. So yeah, handle. So my god, do some accounting.

Debbie Fick  16:12

I know. We just dumped the trucks.

Jeremy Kellett  16:17

That sounds a lot on the St. Louis side. I mean, that’s an impressive plant in itself. I mean, what are you gonna wear what your capabilities on the St. Louis,

Debbie Fick  16:27

on the St. Louis side, we’re much more rail focused. We do a fair number of trucks in season. We’ll do 100-150 trucks. But our big focus in St. Louis is rail. And you know, a lot these days and commodities fertilizer, mostly, but we do a lot of road salt, fertilizers, our main commodity. And our biggest thing, there’s unit trains we ship a lot of the railroad will bring in 85 to 100 cars at a time. And we load those and turn it around in 24 hours.

Jeremy Kellett  17:07

85, QCon, 24 hours.

Debbie Fick  17:09

So from our urea building, our big frame building, which is humidity controlled. And let’s get 63,000 Tons of storage. We can load a car in about it depending on who you ask. But it’s about 12 to 13 minutes by car. Wow. So we can get those turned on the railroad really like that. It’s very efficient for them. Yeah, they can take, you know, a whole train of cars to a unit train shed in the upper Midwest.

Jeremy Kellett  17:38

That’s awesome. Yeah, I was looking at was it your storage capacity? 105,000 tonnes of dry storage and 30,000 tons of liquid storage?

Debbie Fick  17:49

So we have five? Yeah, so big a frame building? It’s 63,000 tons. And I believe it’s the only building in the country. That’s an all wood frame and it’s humidity controlled. So you don’t get that mucky, muddy glaze on the floor in the warehouse. 

Jeremy Kellett  18:10

And is that one of your advantages? Are we competition you think

Debbie Fick  18:14

Our product quality is very high. So we have five domes. And we have a hoop building and some just pad storage for salt. So hoop building. That’s a fabric fabric building with 5000 Tons of storage.

Jeremy Kellett  18:32

I don’t know the lingo.

Debbie Fick  18:32

Yeah. And we also have illiquid tanks. Okay, 15,000 tons each.

Jeremy Kellett  18:41

How many employees did you get to bid?

Debbie Fick  18:45

Between the two? We’re probably 40 to 50 employees, depending on the time of the year.

Jeremy Kellett  18:51

Yeah. You said last night, they all make fun of you every day,

Debbie Fick  18:55

every day we’ll share. Well, it’s really kind of a male dominated area. And I guess they just do a lot every day. They got something to say about what I’m wearing or the way I part or they don’t miss a beat. I mean, they walk in that door and right away. It’s just like it’s rehearsed. Yeah, they plan. They do. They do, but I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to work with it. Just that’s what makes it that’s what makes it fun.

Jeremy Kellett  19:27

Yeah, you know, makes you want to come to work. It does.

Debbie Fick  19:29

It’s there. You can have that friendly banter back and forth. But when it’s time to get the job done. It just

Jeremy Kellett  19:36

means love. Maybe that’s how they show their love. Ah, yes.

Debbie Fick  19:41

Yes, I’m sure.

Jeremy Kellett  19:44

Because I know that Steve was giving you a hard time about coming on this list. I know. And he’s around and now he’s gone. Yeah, I figure. He didn’t want to come here. He said he had to get up and leave early. He broke down.

Debbie Fick  19:57

Probably still in bed.

Jeremy Kellett  20:03

Oakley Trucking is a 100% Owner Operator company. We specialize in Hopper, bottom and dump and pneumatic drivers. We provide the trailer free of charge and you provide the truck. We have a large customer base that reaches the whole United States as well as parts of Canada. Our owner operators live anywhere from Texas to North Carolina to Pennsylvania to Wisconsin and everywhere in between and we get them home weekends. We take it seriously when you join Oakley trucking because we need you to be successful. Oakley offers great benefits and competitive mileage pay. So you know that when your wheels are turning, you’re generating money, no matter if you’re loaded or empty. We understand that you want to make a good living and that you make our living. We only take on independent contractors. And to be honest with you, we are very particular on who we lean on and must have a good driving record, good work history and clean, dependable truck. So if you’re interested in Oakley trucking or just want some more information, you can go to Oakley trucking.com. Listen to our weekly podcast, the Oakley podcast and subscribe to our YouTube channel. What does the future look like? You think I mean for the terminals there, St. Louis and Cahokia. And now that you, you know, four years into working with Bruce Oakley, I mean, I’m assuming, you know, you rely on some people here.

Debbie Fick  21:20

I do with the main office very much. So we have a wonderful support staff here. From the fertilizer guys, to our accounting staff, to Justin and everybody is just everybody works well together, everyone’s accessible. I could call Justin any time of the day or night. And, you know, he’s just everyone’s accessible, and always willing to help and collaborate on things, even if it’s not there. Even if it’s not their job, you know, so. But we found with the Oakleys, that they’re very willing to invest in our facility, we just did a rail expansion last year 2000 $2 million rail expansion. And so they don’t really bat an eye at, hey, this is what this will make. This is what will make the facility better. And they’re gonna feel good to do that. 

Jeremy Kellett  22:22

There’s so much support and to know that there’s no I mean, you know, you see something that you want that you think, Oh, help Bruce Oakley and help the terminal. I mean, they listen, they make a big difference.

Debbie Fick  22:34

They do. And they’re always willing to invest where it makes sense, you know, and not just an open checkbook, but invest where it makes sense. Yeah. And so there, they were just fantastic.

Jeremy Kellett  22:47

I’m excited to get some form of trucking up there. I mean, that’s, you know, that’s definitely one of our goals is to, to somehow do that. We were kind of on a little deal there a couple years ago, had one guy trying to that kind of fall through, but it’s, you know, we just I think we gotta get the personnel built up a little bit to be able to do that. But the opportunity is there to work with trucking.

Debbie Fick  23:12

It is for sure it is. We’ve been seeing a lot more Oakley trucks. And it’s kind of cool to look out the window and see when going through the lot. It just,

Jeremy Kellett  23:22

Yeah, it’s you’re having communication with those guests, or owner operators that come through there.

Debbie Fick  23:27

I do sometimes. So. So we’re a small office, and we do whatever we need to do. So. If the lady at the scales is gone, and there’s no one to cover up there, I’ll go up there. And so I am very busy with the workforce. And she needs a hand in the morning to just get things started. So I do see some of them come through, always very polite.

Jeremy Kellett  23:50

And you’re right there. You’re in downtown St. Louis

Debbie Fick  23:54

Yet we’re on the north side.

Jeremy Kellett  23:55

How do they get guys driving through there? Where did they kind of give them a mile marker exit or something? Where would they get off or look for you on the river as I drive by

Debbie Fick  24:07

so we’re at exit 248 on Interstate 70. So we’re very conveniently located in a network kind of at the convergence of several interstate highways. Just across the river so

Jeremy Kellett  24:24

Well, it’s it’s a great location seem to be

Debbie Fick  24:28

It is you know, they say St. Louis is America’s gold coast for agriculture, really, because there’s so much transportation and so much ag infrastructure there. So that’s why all the grain comes down and it’s our facility that is closest.

Jeremy Kellett  24:43

Does weather like freezing have something to do with that this guy gets much north of you. There’s gonna be a lot of freezing going on.

Debbie Fick  24:52

There we are, our St. Louis terminal is the northernmost point on the Mississippi river that’s open year round. So fertilizer comes to us up the Mississippi River. We offload it, put it onto rail, and then ship it up north to the Dakotas. Oh, really. So our busy time is usually in the wintertime where we’re starting to fill those unit train sheds.

Jeremy Kellett  25:18

Okay, so that they can get them up there for springtime when it is right.

Debbie Fick  25:23

So they’ll put the product on a barge to get it as far as St. Louis, and then we’ll put it on the rail to go the rest of the way.

Jeremy Kellett  25:29

Okay. I mean, does it ever get spring in the Dakotas?

Debbie Fick  25:34

I mean, do the math this year, I didn’t think it was going to you know, we were ready to ship trains. And they’re like, Debbie, it’s, you know, may be the first and we still have snow. So we know. I’m a warm weather girl

Jeremy Kellett  25:46

In St. Louis it can get cold. It can

Debbie Fick  25:49

We we have some short, cold spells, but it’s relatively moderate compared to

Jeremy Kellett  25:56

You had a bunch of Cardinal fans working there. Now we do.

Debbie Fick  25:59

We’re a little. We’re a little sad about him this year. But

Jeremy Kellett  26:04

Me too. I’m a cardinal fan, too.

Debbie Fick  26:06

We’ll stick with him. Oh, yeah. I’ll figure it out.

Jeremy Kellett  26:08

You get to go with it. All right. Well, I appreciate you sitting down with me. Well, thank you. Anything else you’d like to add to? Like, we’ve covered everything

Debbie Fick  26:17

I am just very grateful to be part of Oakley. They’ve treated us so well. I will put one more plug in. They’ve treated us so well that when we sold the company, they let my dad keep his office mass. And my dad still comes to the office. It was every day. And now it’s a little bit less. But a couple times a week. He still comes to the office. And I think he still thinks he owns it. But he’s at four. So he’s still driving. He’s still driving. Yeah. That also talks to the drivers. Just like he’s in his element, just like he’s any other day. So. Wow.

Jeremy Kellett  27:03

And he’s been working. And that’s always been at that facility that were they founded in

Debbie Fick  27:07

1926. I don’t think they moved to this place. We are now in the early 40s. Well, we’re coming on a century so

Jeremy Kellett  27:19

So your dad has been going to that place for 65 years. That’s impressive. They are hell. Impressive. You work there. They belong to a man and make it work. And it’s pretty impressive. One, you know, you don’t see a lot of ladies, right? In a business like this. And it’s really good to see somebody thrive and like you are helping Bruce Oakley thrive. It’s really good, impressive.

Debbie Fick  27:46

So much support. And I appreciate it.

Jeremy Kellett  27:49

Well, congratulations on your four year anniversary. Yeah. Qlik. Thank you. Yes. Good. Good stuff. Good meeting yesterday. Yes. Good ballgame last night. So everything went well.

Debbie Fick  28:00

I thought our meeting was going to be like a surprise anniversary party. Maybe it’s still today. Maybe when we go back out. Balloons, right? 

Jeremy Kellett  28:09

Yeah, that’s what I’m expecting. Oh, man. Well, thanks, Dave. We appreciate you. Hey, thanks, everybody for listening to the Oakley podcast. I can’t thank you enough for tuning into this every week and telling everybody about it. Man. It makes a big difference to us here. And if you ever want to hear anything more about Oakley, more about Bruce Oakley, anything in particular, let me know shoot me an email. And I’ll be glad to do the best we can. Once again we appreciate it and we’ll talk to you next week. Thanks for listening to this episode with Oakley podcast, trucking, business and family. If you enjoyed this episode, be sure to rate or review the show in the podcast platform of your choice and share it with a friend. We love hearing from our audience. So if you’ve got a question, comment or just want to say hello, head over to our website, the Oakley podcast.com and click the leave a comment button. We’ll get you a response soon and may even share some of the best ones here on the show. We’ll be back with a fresh episode very soon. Thanks for listening.