By Diana Hammell
Wherever anyone travels in this country it’s possible to see a Caledonia Haulers truck on the road somewhere. The farther one drives, the more fun it is to pick out a big shiny semi with the distinctive bright blue Haulers tractor sporting lots of extra chrome. It’s not hard to understand why it’s so often that drivers spot them; Caledonia Haulers puts on 60,000 miles per day. That adds up to 22,000,000 miles per year. They consume around 10,000 gallons of fuel per day.
Out of six
The Caledonia Haulers began in 1958 with six drivers hauling canned milk off Houston County farms to the local Land O’ Lakes Creamery. Each invested $200 to secure a bank loan to buy a straight truck and tank for moving bulk milk between area farms and the creamery. This cautious beginning was followed by a similarly cautious initial expansion. They operated for six years before acquiring a tractor-trailer. By 1977, the fleet was composed of just seven trucks – five company owned and two owner-operators, and it served customers in only four states.
Now hauling from local dairies is the smallest part of what they do, even though they haul one million pounds of milk per day off farms. Through growth and acquisition they haul milk to multiple coops from Rochester to Postville, Iowa. Their over the road diversification began by hauling milk in semi trailers to Illinois and then taking corn sweetener back to Minnesota. Caledonia Haulers now owns 165 sleeper trucks, 300 trailers, 15 route trucks and 15 day cabs.
The industry has changed
“The industry has changed,” Caledonia Haulers president Dennis Gavin said. It’s not just milk that they haul anymore. They haul loads of soybean oil out of Mankato every day. “Most of it goes to bakeries and candy manufacturers like Tootsie Roll and to Wesson Oil.” They haul orange juice from Florida or Brazilian orange juice that they pick up at New Jersey docks. They haul honey, a lot of which goes to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. They haul creamed yeast, which looks like cream and is made from corn syrup, and molasses for Red Star Yeast and to other bakeries. “Bakeries use the stuff by the semi load,” Gavin said. They haul cranberry juice and liquid eggs that go to bakeries. “We spend $1.8 million dollars a year washing out trailers,” Gavin said.
Although the Haulers is based out of Caledonia, Caledonia is just a small cog in the actual machinery of the business. They have a terminal in Darlington, Wis. and one in Cedar Rapids for maintenance. It’s difficult to have all of the trucks come through Caledonia all of the time.
Haulers drivers live all over the U.S. – Kentucky, Alabama, California, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and many from Indiana. Some of the routes work well for out-of-state drivers, such as the organic milk loads that are hauled from Chaseburg, Wis. to the east coast.
Gavin said that over the years they’ve had to grow and diversify because things always change. The Haulers have 180 drivers and 33 employees between offices, shops and reloading working for them. Gavin said it’s hard to find people in Caledonia to fill their employee needs.
“It’s harder and harder to find drivers because they’re gone a lot,” Gavin said. Since so many of their drivers are not from the area the Haulers remodeled a house behind their corporate office building into a bunk house. “It’s a decent place to hang out and sleep if they’re here overnight,” Gavin said. The house has a game room, workout room and kitchen. “There’s often a driver coming through who likes to cook.”
Laws on emissions are getting so tough that the industry can’t keep up with them. “The theory is good but there are still a lot of problems with the systems,” Gavin said. “Since 2008 we need filters to refilter exhaust. If the emissions don’t meet requirements the system is programed to shut the truck down and, since the tractor manufacturers haven’t perfected the systems, we have a truck broken down somewhere every day.”
These aren’t old trucks that are out on the road either. They purchased 36 new Peterbilt sleeper trucks this year alone. Trucks are retired after five years of use and the Haulers sell most of them themselves.
Health insurance is another kick in the proverbial tire. “Health insurance costs us more than truck insurance does,” Gavin said.
Gavin appreciates the effort put in by his employees. “It takes a lot of good people to make things work here,” Gavin said. The Haulers stay very involved in the Caledonia community and are there behind church and civic functions like the Caledonia Community Celebrations, the Bluff and Valley Balloon Rally and the new swimming pool.
Minnesota State Senator Jeremy Miller and representatives from the Minnesota Trucking Association (MTA) will be at Caledonia Haulers on Thursday, Oct. 18. The agenda includes a tour of the Caledonia Haulers facility, discussion of MTA initiatives, a question and answer session and a small ride-along.
“Minnesota’s economy and the trucking industry depend on a strong and robust highway system,” representatives from the MTA say. “The strength of our highway system depends on a healthy highway funding system. Today, the funds that maintain and improve our highways come from fuel taxes, vehicle registration fees and vehicle sales taxes. Recently, some studies have questioned the ability of fuel tax revenues to sustain and expand our highway infrastructure over time. These studies say that our highway funding will be depleted if we continue to use a fuel tax as part of our highway funding system. The trucking industry disagrees with their assumptions and believes the current highway funding system provides the fairest, most transparent and efficient way to collect revenue.”
The MTA strongly asserts that there is nothing systemically wrong with the fuel tax. “Rather than raise the fuel tax, some policymakers are calling for implementation of tolls, mileage-based user fees and public-private partnerships. Based on the spotty track record and pitfalls of these funding mechanisms, the trucking industry does not support a complete overhaul of the fuel tax.”
Trucks are willing to pay their fair share in fuel taxes and registration fees. In 2011, for example a typical tractor-semitrailer paid $13,867 in state and federal highway user fees and taxes. The trucking industry pays 33 percent of all fuel taxes and registration fees owed by Minnesota motorists, despite trucks representing only eight percent of vehicle miles traveled in the state.
Through many challenges, from changes in the industry to legislative issues, the small business that Gavin’s father began with a few other guys continues to be a vibrant enterprise. May they long keep on rolling.