1985 Mack truck still rolling as part of Minnesota farm family business
Becker Transports of Wadena, Minnesota, started in with a 1985 Mack Superliner bought in 2010. A dozen years later, that ‘85 Mack is still putting in the miles as Becker Transport has grown into a
WADENA, Minn. — It was 2010 when Randy Becker decided to tap into his background of trucking and add it into a newly established farming operation.
When shopping for a truck, he found a 1985 Mack Superliner.
“It had been sitting in a shed for close to 15 years, when we bought it,” Randy Becker said.
It was largely been disassembled — no seats in the cab, no glass in the windshield, no lights — but he was able to drive it.
He bought it for a little over $7,000, painted it from white to red and then “had the joy of putting the puzzle together.”
A dozen years later, Becker says that ‘85 Mack is still putting in the miles as Becker Transport has grown into a regional trucking company, hauling loads like farm machinery, construction equipment, gravel and grain across the upper Midwest from its home base in north-central Minnesota.
Becker Transport is now a full-time job for Randy’s wife Jodi, who handles office duties such as scheduling, permits, insurance and payroll.
That payroll has increased significantly, as the company now has about a dozen employees, most of them full time but with some part-time and seasonal help.
The company is up to seven trucks, all but one bought used, has a dozer and backhoe for dirt work and excavating, has a road grader and works on township roads, and even has its own gravel pit.
But still running is the ‘85 Mack.
“I’m pretty much the only one who drives it. It’s the oldest one in the fleet,” Becker said. “I’m kind of partial to it.”
Becker Transport regularly hauls into the Dakotas and down into Iowa and as far east as Illinois, sometimes moving farm machinery for dealerships. Drivers usually are home every night, but the job isn't done until the truck is washed.
The Beckers often use high school or college students to wash trucks to drivers can get home. The Becker's daughter, Lauren, is 14, and is now being put on truck-washing duty, and their son, Luke, 8, will help polish trucks.
Randy says part of the initial motivation for buying the semi-tractor was to haul his own grain. In 2010, the Beckers were transitioning from a farm in Wright County west of the Twin Cities to Wadena County. For a while, they were farming in both locations, a distance of about 125 miles. And Randy was still making hauls for other companies in the Twin Cities area.
But 2010 also was the year a tornado hammered the town of Wadena. Among the damage was the fertilizer plant. Becker Transport was hired to haul fertilizer between Wadena and another fertilizer plant in nearby New York Mills back as part of the cleanup.
“It was something to get started,” Randy Becker said, hauling a couple loads a day.
When the gig hauling fertilizer ended in 2011, he got his first call from another farmer, Larry Rach of Verndale, who needed oats hauled.
“We’re still hauling his grain to this day,” Randy Becker said, adding that he hasn’t changed his rates for Rach as a thanks for helping the business get rolling.
“It takes time to get your customer base built up,” said Jodi Becker, who grew up in the Wadena area.
Rach, now 75, calls himself a small farmer and appreciates that Becker Transport will keep hauling for an operation that some might find too small to deal with.
“He said, ‘I’ll always haul your stuff to town so don’t worry about it,’” Rach said of Randy. And Rach wouldn’t have it any other way.
“He keeps his trucks just immaculate and I’m almost proud to have him haul my stuff into town because it looks so nice,” Rach said.
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Randy came from a farm family in Wright County that hauled milk for decades. But with the milk industry in decline, he started driving truck in the construction industry at age 18.
He says they have modeled their business after one that he worked for run by Dale and Marlene Scherber. That family ran a dairy farm and hauled sand and gravel with seven trucks.
“When you worked for them, they treated you like you were extended family,” Randy said.
“You weren’t just a number,” Jodi added.
“So I kind of got a flavor of working for a family-owned business,” Randy said.
“At the end of the day, I think that you're better off smaller; you’ve got more of a personal relationship with the guys that work with you and their families.”
The Beckers aren’t into dairy farming but have about 900 acres of cropland. And instead of starting the business on the edge of a booming metro area, the Beckers were starting in a very rural area. Wadena County has about 14,000 people.
Randy Becker said they still have the attitude that they can’t turn a job down.
Diversification is key
Randy says another motivation to build their own trucking business was based on the advice of a financial adviser who had seen farm families struggle during the 1980s farm crisis.
“He said, ‘Diversification is the name of the game,'” Randy said, which also meant not just ag trucking, and grain hauling is actually a small part of their operation now.
He says they have 11 different trailers but one goal would be to add to and update the trailer fleet to give them more hauling options to keep on trucking.
“The drive to get up and do it every day, that’s not hard at all. If you enjoy doing what you’re doing, that’s not a job,” Randy said. “I don’t ever plan on retiring, unless I quit having fun, but I don’t ever see that happening.”