Wisconsin food carrier offers customers a wide range of services
Sep 1, 2012 12:00 PM, By Charles E Wilson
WHEN ASKED about the keys to success for the foodgrade tank truck fleet that bears his name, Lowell C Hagen wastes no time in listing two critical factors. The carrier hires good, loyal employees; and it delivers outstanding customer service.
Over the past 26 years, Lowell C Hagen Trucking Inc grew into a thriving Midwestern regional liquid bulk carrier, transporting a wide range of foods. Based in Whitewater, Wisconsin, the carrier runs about 115 tractors and 200 tank trailers. In addition to the fleet, the company runs two commercial foodgrade tank washes and offers liquid bulk food logistics services.
“We're constantly finding new opportunities for diversification and growth in the food hauling sector,” Hagen says. “However, we will never get so big that we forget the importance of our own people and our customers. Employees make a business work, and we have a lot of longtime employees in this company. They know that the customer is number one, and they buy into that from the moment they start working here. Our employees deliver great customer service, and our customers know that we will cover the loads that need to move. Food hauling — especially milk hauling — is a 24/7/365 business.”
Like so many food fleet owners in the upper Midwest, Hagen started with a single milk tanker on a farm pick-up route. He bought the route in 1973 after completing an Army enlistment that included a tour in Vietnam. A year later, he sold the route and spent the next four years farming.
The taste for trucking stayed with him, though, and Hagen signed on as an owner-operator with another milk hauler in the area. “I realized I enjoyed milk hauling more than farming, and I was good at trucking,” he says.
In 1986, he struck out on his own, obtaining a significant contract with a major milk processor for plant-to-plant shipments of raw milk. Lowell C Hagen Trucking was launched with 10 milk trailers.
Hard work and the strong customer focus brought steady growth and more food-hauling opportunities. The carrier steadily diversified its liquid food cargo portfolio from the late 1980s forward. New bulk liquid cargoes included chocolate, cane sugar, soy sauce, and edible oils.
“We diversified a little bit at a time,” Hagen says. “Today, milk accounts for half of the product hauled by Lowell C Hagen Trucking, and other food products make up the other half of our cargo mix. We will continue to add other edibles as we find the opportunities.”
The fleet grew with the product diversity and through acquisition of other food haulers. “Eventually, we had bought out most of the other farm pick-up and milk transport operations in the area. One of our last acquisitions was Korth Transfer in Hillpoint, Wisconsin, which (sons and son-in-law) Levi Hagen, Brandon Johnson, and Luke Hagen purchased in 2004. It continues to operate under its own name. Korth Transfer hauls milk and milk products, and about 90% of the shipments are plant-to-plant.”
In addition to the cargo and fleet expansion, the company grew diversified in other ways. It designed and built a reload facility in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, for one of its largest customers. Operating as Hagen Transfer, the new reload facility opened in 1995 and replaced two outdated locations. The new reload facility included bulk milk storage and cleaning system for washing out milk tankers.
By 2010, the customer no longer needed the Elkhorn reload facility, and it was converted into a five-bay commercial wash rack capable of cleaning virtually any foodgrade product. Still called Hagen Transfer, the wash rack is being joined by second foodgrade tank cleaning facility in Janesville, Wisconsin.
One of the newest divisions in the company is Hagen Logistics, which was launched in 2009. “We manage all of the food shipments for one key customer, and we needed a way to handle excess loads or loads in areas where we don't have operations of our own,” says Brandon Johnson, Hagen Logistics manager. “We developed an on-line platform (www.liquidfreight.com) to broker and manage foodgrade loads. Carriers bid for the loads. We developed the website in-house, and we vet all of the carriers that participate in the bidding process.”
Management of the various operating divisions is a family affair. Hagen's sons, daughter, and son-in-law work in the diversified food transportation company. Levi Hagen runs Korth Transfer; Luke Hagen handles dispatch for Lowell C Hagen Trucking; and Brandon and Theresa Johnson manage Hagen Logistics.
Operations are concentrated within 10 Midwestern states extending from Ohio to Minnesota. Milk shipments, including product collected in farm pickup operations, typically go to processing plants within a 100-mile radius of Whitewater. Between the two fleets, the company hauls about two million pounds of milk a day from dairy farms.
For other food products, the trips can be longer (500 to 600 miles) and drivers are out three to four days at a time. “It's much more efficient to keep these trucks out longer hauling multiple loads,” Hagen says. “Through Hagen Logistics, we've been able to cut empty miles by about 10%.”
Finding drivers to handle the loads and keep the trucks moving has been no problem, according to Hagen. “Many of the drivers who work for us grew up on farms, and they understand the business,” he says. “On the milk side, they like being home every night, but they realize that this is a 365-day-a-year business.”
Lowell C Hagen Trucking has been able to hire relatively young drivers, many in the 30-years-old range. Some are hired out of local truck driving schools, but most are recruited by the carrier's current drivers.
The carrier runs primarily company trucks, most of them Freightliners Coronados, Columbias, and Cascadias. The carrier also runs some International tractors. Lowell C Hagen Trucking squeezes maximum life out of the tractors.
Recently, the carrier built seven glider kits powered by rebuilt 2000-model-year Series 60 Detroit Diesel engines. “We did it because we got what were essentially new tractors without the excise taxes or the need for the emission controls that are mandated on new engines,” Hagen says.
The newest tractors in the fleet are Cascadias specified with 430-horsepower Detroit DD13 engines, Eaton Fuller 13-speed transmissions and Meritor drive axles. The carrier runs daycab tractors in short-haul operations and sleeper units for the multi-day trips. All of the tractors are outfitted with PeopleNet on-board computers that produce electronic driver logs and weekly mileage reports.
Tractors are specified with Gardner Denver Drum Hydrapak hydraulics used to power trailer-mounted product pumps. The fleet also orders Dynasys and Thermo King Tri-Pak auxiliary power units (APUs) on its trucks.
“We believe hydraulic technology is safer than mechanical systems for powering product pumps,” Hagen says. “APUs have been a winner for us, because they cut engine idling and keep the cab comfortable while a driver is in the sleeper. The APUs we specify are cost efficient to operate and perform well for us.”
Sanitary tank trailers are supplied by Polar Tank Trailer and the Walker Group. Lowell C Hagen Trucking also purchases some equipment from Stuart Tank Sales Corp. Typical milk trailer capacity is 6,200 gallons, while trailers used for other liquid foods can carry up to 6,800 gallons.
Cargo tanks are constructed of 304 stainless steel to 3A dairy industry standards. Tank hardware includes sanitary manhole covers with Olsen vents, three-inch 60TTF outlets, and rear-mounted pump and hose cabinets. Trailers used for most food products have Ibex pumps, while those tankers dedicated to chocolate and mustard have Viking pumps.
Unlike the trailers that have been used in dairy operations over the years, the tankers in the Lowell C Hagen Trucking fleet do not have clean-in-place systems. Carrier management believes foodgrade trailers can be cleaned more effectively and completely with drop-in spinners and spray balls.
For running gear, the carrier prefers the Hendrickson Intraax air suspension system. About 20% of the trailer fleet has suspensions with the ability to lift the leading trailer axle when the cargo tank is empty, which improves fuel economy by about 3%. Some of the shorter farm pick-up trailers have tri-axle running to meet bridge laws.
Much of the tractor and trailer maintenance is handled in-house at company shops in Whitewater, Janesville, and Hillpoint. Mechanics have the ability to overhaul and rebuild engines, transmissions, and other major truck components. With the exception of vessel repairs, mechanics also handle most of the trailer maintenance.
The diversified capabilities developed at Lowell C Hagen Trucking and its subsidiary operations enable the company to handle virtually any food-hauling challenge and provide outstanding customer service.
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