By Tim McEntire
If you spend much time on the roads of Northwest Montana, you have more than likely seen one of the many trucks of Hanson Trucking. Hanson Trucking mainly focusing on hauling chips, saw dust and other mill residues and is based out of Columbia Falls conveniently right across from Weyerhaeuser’s Medium Density Fiber plant. Without companies like Hanson Trucking, our local mills would literally grind to a halt. If the mills are running, residues need to be hauled away. It’s quite a task to make sure mills are not getting backed up on residue storage, keeping a fleet of trucks rolling and coordinating hauls to be as efficient as possible. Hanson Trucking has managed to weather several changes to the industry over the past 30 years and have proven to be an essential part of the timber industry.
Skip Hanson was born to Belva and Ernie Hanson who resided at Echo Lake, just outside of Kalispell. Ernie worked for the State Forestry Department and spent several years at local Ranger stations as a fire-control officer. Skip got his start in the woods, as many did back in the 50’s, bumping knots in the South Fork of the Flathead around Hungry Horse Reservoir. The area around the reservoir likes to grow nice trees and lots of them. The timber industry was very busy in the surrounding drainages for decades. When the road was in tougher shape and trucking technology was still in its beginning stages, it was common practice to dump logs in the 34-mile-long reservoir and use a tug boat to get them closer to town. Log trucks would run short trips between the wood’s landings and the log dumps. With so much activity, Skip found himself behind the wheel of a log truck and his trucking career took off.
Skip soon purchased his own log truck and started the life of a gypo log truck driver. He worked mainly with Canyon Logging hauling many loads out of the South Fork. In the 60’s, the whole family would move to Soldier Creek which is located at the farthest end of the reservoir putting them about as far from civilization as possible. The family would spend the summer in the woods until school called everyone back to town.
In 1973, Skip sold his log truck and went to work for Royal Logging, which at one time was one of the largest independent logging companies in the United States. As the years went by, through Skip’s hard work, he was promoted and eventually found himself as the transportation supervisor. Royal Logging had been absorbed by the mills and everything was under one name, Plum Creek Timber. In 1987, Plum Creek made the decision to shut down company logging operations but kept their fleet of chip trucks that were used to haul the raw materials into their MDF plant. This continued for four more years but by 1991 Plum Creek was ready to be out of the trucking business. They approached Skip with the opportunity to buy the trucks and take over that portion of the business. Skip and Marie accepted the offer and with it came nine trucks, fourteen trailers, drivers and shop equipment. Chris, Hanson, the youngest son came on as the only mechanic. Hanson Trucking had been born.
Hanson Trucking had the responsibility of moving residues from mills that were producing them to mills that use them. This is a harder task than it sounds and Hanson Trucking’s ability to dispatch trucks when and where they are needed is quite a daunting task. The company has grown from the original purchase from Plum Creek to meet demand. Missoula Cartage Co. was purchased in 2006 and was absorbed by Hanson Trucking. This allowed them to meet the needs of mills in the southwest part of the state. A large part of the business is done in Canada, so Hanson Trucking teamed up with Glen Transport Ltd, a Canadian trucking company, that was working with Plum Creek to haul chips from the United States into Canada and sawdust and shavings back from British Columbia. The partnership has worked and continues to this day.
A major part of the company business model at one time was hauling resin from Borden Chemical in Missoula to Plum Creek’s plywood plants in Evergreen and Columbia Falls and to the MDF plant in Columbia Falls. Thick bladders were installed in the chip trailers and trucks would take residues down to Smurfit-Stone and bring back resin for the plywood plants. It was a win-win with the trucks hauling materials in both directions. When Smurfit-Stone announced in 2009 it was closing the plant, things changed. The flow of materials stopped going down to Smurfit-Stone and Plum Creek decided it was finically smarter to haul the resin in tankers instead of the bladders. Smurfit-Stone’s closing was in the midst of a few tough years for the industry and anybody that survived it should be commended.
One of the key parts of the success of Hanson Trucking is their ability to handle most repairs in house. They have a tire shop on-site that handles all rotation and daily inspections of tires. This has eliminated wasted time waiting at tire shops. Their five mechanics handle the repair work including rebuilding of engines and transmission. Also, a rebuild shop is on-site that handles rebuilding of trailers and frame rails. In the current climate we are in with supply and staffing issues, being able to be self-sufficient assures trucks keep rolling.
In the early 2000’s Skip wanted to step back from daily operations, which opened the door to sons Steve and Neil. Steve Hanson took over management responsibilities in April of 2000. Before coming into the family business, he was employed at Plum Creek for 20 years working his way up from pulling green chain to superintendent of the company’s Sawmill – Planer in Evergreen. His brother Neil also worked for Plum Creek at the MDF plant and is now the operations manager for Hanson Trucking. The company is operated with the mindset that everyone is family. The business model has worked well with most of the employees being with the company for several years with the senior driver being there for 19 ½ years. Steve and Neil have an open-door policy and employees can talk with them about anything at any time.
The Hansons have not only dedicated their time to the company but also to Montana Motor Carriers of Montana. MMC has served as the voice of Montana’s trucking industry since 1939 and Hanson Trucking has been a big supporter. Steve recently served the last two years as President and is now on the Executive committee. They have been members of the Montana Logging Association since Hanson Trucking formed and are big supporters of the local community.
Hanson Trucking has 40 employees and plays a key role in the timber industry. Through their dedication to their employees and the trucking industry, they have had a hand in not only the past but the future of the timber industry. There is little doubt that as time continues on, so will Hanson Trucking’s Timber Roots.