Doing something the right way is not always the easiest or fastest way – but it is still the right way! Such is the philosophy of this month’s cover trucker Tony Hanson of Minnesota Lake, MN. At only 43 years old, Tony is certainly still a young man, but he already has decades of experience under his belt and grew up idolizing his father who trucked for over 50 years, so you can imagine how his old-school attitude came to be. Back in the day, folks weren’t afraid to work long and hard, and they expected nothing more in return for that effort than fair pay. Following in his father’s (and so many others) footsteps, Tony has achieved hard-earned success and absolutely loves what he does – pulling a reefer between Minnesota and California with his clean black Peterbilt 389.
Born and raised in southern Minnesota, Tony’s story begins with his grandparents, Delmar and Phyllis Hanson. They were farmers in Faribault, MN who grew corn and soybeans and had dairy cows, hogs and chickens. Their farm eventually grew to include about 300 acres, and Tony’s dad Harvey, born in 1937, spent a lot of time as a kid tending to those fields. Harvey vividly remembered helping his dad (Tony’s grandpa) one day when a semi-truck came roaring down the road next to the field. Harvey turned to his dad and said, “That’s what I want to do when I grow up!” To which Delmar replied, “That’s a hard life, Harvey.” And he wasn’t wrong – especially back then.
Not surprisingly, his dad’s words of concern about trucking did not stop Harvey. Years later, Harvey would say those same words to Tony, but do you think he listened? Nope. Trucking takes you thousands of lonely miles from your home and forces you to continually make sacrifices, but neither of these men would have had it any other way. Later, when Tony became an owner operator, his dad said, “It takes balls to be an owner operator, not many can do it. I’m proud of you.” Those words of affirmation from his dad made all those sacrifices and lonely miles worth it.
Going to work at the Parvena Elevator in Faribault, MN in 1956, Harvey honed his truck driving skills hauling grain and feed locally and took an occasional trip to California as a team with his friend Bill in a Mack cabover hooked to an Aeroliner refrigerated trailer. In the early 1960s, Harvey bought his first truck – a 1959 Chevrolet gas job that he later added a little sleeper to. The Chevrolet had a belt drive tandem axle which was made by a company called Silent Drive out of Orange City, IA. Believe it or not, that outfit is still in business today, selling lift axles and other specialized suspension systems.
The next truck Harvey got was “the old White” in the mid-1960s. The exact year of this truck is not known, but it was just always called “the old White” back then. At some point, Harvey added a turbo for more power, but it stuck out further than the butterfly hood, so he just left that side of the hood off. Later, a friend made Harvey a small wooden sleeper out of plywood for “the old White” and it worked just fine. Years later, when Tony was a little kid and that truck was long gone, he remembers playing in that sleeper out in the yard.
At 31 years old, Harvey ordered a brand-new glider kit from John Rihm at Rihm Kenworth in St. Paul, MN. The truck was a red and white 1968 Kenworth W900A, and Harvey took it to a shop owned by Jerry Taylor in Northfield, MN where Harvey and mechanic Ed Williams put the truck together. Originally fitted with a Cummins engine and a two-stick transmission (5+4), over the years and decades Harvey owned and ran this truck it had several different engines under the hood and, eventually, the two-stick was changed to a 13-speed. Harvey ran this KW until 2000, when he finally retired it from service.
Hauling grain for most of its life, Harvey also used the KW to pull milk tankers, containers, flatbeds and reefers over the years. When it was new, it came with a wide hood, which was new for Kenworths back then. Harvey liked the narrower hoods, so he swapped a guy for the narrower version in the 1970s. Later, in the 1990s, he set the cab and bunk back eight inches and then installed an even narrower hood, from the 1950s, on the truck. He also extended that hood eight inches. Tony grew up riding in this Kenworth and figures it probably had four million miles put on her over the years. At some point, Harvey had an old English “H” painted on the radiator shutters – something Tony would later put on his truck in honor of his father.
In 2000, Harvey bought a 1998 Peterbilt 379 with an extended hood from a guy in Foley, MN. He ran that 1998 until he had health issues in 2013 and sold it. Two years later, in 2015, Harvey was tragically killed when he got hit by a car near his home while walking his dog. One of Tony’s favorite memories was that his dad used to go out of the way to drive by his son’s house, and if Tony’s truck was parked outside, Harvey knew he was home so he would drop in for a random visit. Tony misses those impromptu visits the most since losing his father.
With all that history, it’s not hard to believe that Tony became a trucker. His parents got a divorce when he was about 15 years old, and Tony opted to stay with his dad. From then on, his dad and his uncle Myron, along with a few other influential characters, became Tony’s family, mentors and heroes. Graduating high school in 1993, Tony went and got his CDL the very next month, after turning 18, and got a job driving a beer truck. He also did some mechanic work at J & R Schugel in New Ulm, MN. In 1996, he started hauling grain for Don Williams out of Morgan, MN and then switched to Elroy J. Menssen Trucking in Butterfield, MN a year later, hauling grain and feed full time now. During his five years with Elroy, he also started hauling produce, and cut his teeth pulling a reefer.
In 2003, Tony bought his own truck – a used black 2001 Kenworth W900L. The truck had a 72” Aerocab and was powered by a 500 ISX Cummins hooked to an 18-speed. In those days, he was very nervous and careful with his money. This is when he started running regularly between Minnesota and California, hauling meat west and produce east. At first, he leased on at a local company, pulling their trailers, but a few months later he was given a better opportunity at Keiser Trucking in Spicer, MN and bought his own trailer – a brand-new 2004 spread-axle stainless-steel 48’ Great Dane reefer.
Running as hard as they let him, Tony put 400,000 miles on that first Kenworth in just two years, and in 2005 he ordered his first new truck – a black 2006 Peterbilt 379. Powered by a 625-hp Cat hooked to an 18-speed, the truck featured a 280” wheelbase, a 70” sleeper, 3.25 rears and a host of upgrades, including single-round headlights on Double JJ brackets, a billet grill (made by his friend Jeff Botelho), seven bullet cab lights and a drop visor. Tony put 1.4 million miles on this Peterbilt until California’s emissions rules forced him to replace it.
With no slow-downs in sight, Tony decided to try something different and ordered an aerodynamic 2014 Kenworth T660 with a three-tone paint job done at the factory in black and silver with a thin gun-metal gray breaker stripe. With a 550 Cummins hooked to an 18-speed, the truck had a Studio sleeper with an all-black diamond tuck interior and got a lot of looks – it was even featured by Art Czajkowski in his “Spirit of the American Trucker” article in our July 2015 edition. Tony was hoping the KW would get better fuel mileage, but that really didn’t come to pass. But that did not stop him from putting 768,000 miles on that truck over the next four years.
Leased to Johnson and Johnson Cartage out of Becker, MN for several years, Tony finally found his “home” at Moren Trucking out of Pierz, MN. Eight years later, he is still there and happy, and loves working with owner (and driver) Mark Moren. Mark owns and operates one truck of his own and has about 20 leased-on owner operators, with Tony being one of them. Mark’s dad started the company in 1977, and then Mark later took it over. With honesty, hard work and a good reputation, the company has flourished under Mark’s leadership, which is no surprise, because he is a certified workaholic that can relate to his drivers because he is one, too.
Ordering his current truck (featured here) in the spring of 2018, it arrived in November of that same year. The truck is a 2019 Peterbilt 389 with a 565 Cummins, an 18-speed, 3.21 rears with full lockers, a 280” wheelbase and a 78” stand-up sleeper. While still at the dealer, Tony had them paint a white stripe with a thin red outline on the truck that was designed by his friend Kevin Van Hulzen in California. Other upgrades included seven cab lights, a polished visor (made by Midwest Sheet Metal out of Springfield, MO), all clear-lens LEDs, Hogebuilt stainless half fenders, a flush-mount stainless deck plate with a built-in recessed tool box, and a stainless rear light bar from Iowa Customs.
Wanting to honor his father’s memory, Kevin Van Hulzen suggested that Tony should put an old English “H” on the side of his truck, like his dad had on the radiator shutters of his old trucks. At first, Tony didn’t want to do it, but eventually he came around and then had it put on each side of his sleeper. Now, it is one of his favorite things about the truck, and certainly something that makes it stand out from the rest. When you see that big “H” on the side, you know it’s Tony Hanson rolling by!
Currently pulling a polished 2017 stainless steel spread-axle reefer with a Thermo King Precedent unit, Tony purposely ordered the trailer at 52’ to avoid having to mount an aerodynamic skirt kit underneath (if your trailer is 53’ or longer the skirts are required). Since putting it into service at the end of 2018, Tony has already put 180,000 miles on his “new” truck. Running across I-80 on a regular basis, Tony is no stranger to bad weather and throwing chains, but he does it as infrequently as humanly possible! For our photo shoot, he bought brand new chains to hang under his trailer so they would be nice and clean and shiny.
Married for almost ten years, Tony got divorced in 2011. From that marriage came the light of his life – his daughter Alicen (11). Tony and his ex-wife have joint custody of their daughter, so whenever he is in town, he gets her. Which works out nicely, because when he is not in town, which is quite often, she goes to her mom’s house. Alicen loves gymnastics and art (painting) and thinks her dad and his truck are pretty cool. She occasionally goes out on short runs with him in the truck, but her busy schedule always keeps her pretty close to home.
Fortunate to have many influential men in his life, Tony wanted to acknowledge and thank a few of them here. Unfortunately, some of them are no longer with us, but their presence made an impact on Tony’s life, nonetheless. In his early years, there were people like Roger Markeson, his uncle Myron Hanson and, most importantly, his father – Harvey Hanson. In more recent years, folks like Brett Johnson, Jeff Botelho and Mark Moren have left an impression, as well. Tony met Roger Markeson while driving for Elroy Menssen in 1997 and he was very influential on Tony’s way of thinking, living and trucking.
Roger drove a truck that Elroy Menssen owned and ran Minnesota to Seattle, WA every week. Roger was the epitome of a long-haul trucker, who began driving the same year Tony’s dad did (1956), and over the course of his career logged over nine million miles. He passed away at 81 years old in the summer of 2019. He was always clean, on time and a professional in every way possible. He preferred to run in the north, saying, “I’d much rather fight a snow drift than a sand dune.” Roger set a standard that Tony still tries to live up to each and every day.
Another big influence was his uncle Myron. Tony spent a lot of time with his uncle, in trucks or at his shop, when growing up. Myron, who is three years younger than his brother Harvey, owned a truck repair shop in Eagan, MN for many years. Later in life, Myron switched gears and became a successful and very sought-after blacksmith. Today, he is retired and healthy.
But the most influential person in Tony’s life was his father. Harvey taught his son how to work hard by example and was always there to help him. After Harvey died, his 1968 Kenworth was purchased by Jerry Taylor of Northfield, MN who still owns it today. As you may remember from earlier in this article, the glider kit was originally put together in Jerry’s shop back in 1968, so the truck ended up back where it began.
Meeting Jeff Botelho back in 2010, Tony told me a funny story about how that friendship began. Tony was in Bakersfield, CA and realized that he had a broken fender mount. Randomly calling Jeff Botelho out of an ad he saw in 10-4 Magazine, in hopes of getting it fixed, Jeff told him he could take care of it at his shop in Los Banos, CA just a few hours from where Tony was. But then Jeff asked him, “Hey, are you empty? I got a load that needs covering. You wanna do it on your way here?” Tony agreed and did the load, which Jeff paid him for, and then he fixed Tony’s fender bracket for free. The two have been great friends ever since, and Tony really respects how hard Jeff works.
A few people Tony wanted to thank are his girlfriend for the past seven years, Kerri, for her continued love, patience and support, Henry at Little Sister’s in Barstow, CA for getting the truck dialed-in for the photo shoot, and everyone at 10-4 Magazine, for allowing him to fulfill one of his dreams – to be on our cover. I met Tony at the end of October 2019 at Red Rock Canyon State Park along Highway 14 just north of Mojave, CA. It was a beautiful and peaceful day, out in the quiet tranquility of the dessert and, surprisingly, nobody bothered us (that is rare). I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Tony better, and we got some fantastic pictures!
Tony has no plans to make any changes but hopes that one day he can slow down a bit and just do two rounds a month to California, instead of three. Having a new truck, Tony is obviously using an ELD. Hoping that this new system might make his life a little less hectic and improve the freight rates, for the most part, that hasn’t happened. He likes some things about using the system, but really dislikes others – like all the forced wasted time. Wasting time is not something Tony is comfortable doing, and that is evident, given the fact that he’s only 43 years old and has already logged about 3.4 million accident-free miles.
A fan of everything “old” – like old roads, old towns, old trucks and all things old-west related, Tony has a true love for the old-style of trucking. Through his hard-earned success, he hopes to help build the best possible future for himself and his daughter, and appreciates successful men who work hard, even though they may have not been formally educated. His old-school values, learned from his dad and others, taught him the importance of doing things the right way, even if it isn’t the easiest or fastest or cleanest way. “Doing it right” is more than just a catchy phrase to Tony Hanson – it is how he lives his life, honors his father’s legacy and keeps old-style trucking alive.