Hjort Excavating
Hjort 1

Fourth-generation owners keep Hjort rolling

May 9, 2022
Milaca, Minnesota-based provider of excavating and trucking services traces its roots to 1955. Its trucking division offers dump, heavy haul, and regional delivery services with a fleet of 28 trucks, belly dump, end dump, and lowboy trailers.

Family-owned and -operated businesses are the lifeblood of the trucking industry—and Hjort Excavating is no exception. Now managed by a fourth generation, the Milaca, Minnesota-based provider of excavating and trucking services traces its roots to 1955, when Russell Hjort established the company that bears his name.

Today, his grandson, Dean, heads up the excavating services operation, while his son Randy oversees trucking operations. That division offers dump, heavy haul, and regional delivery services with a fleet of 28 trucks, belly dump, end dump, and lowboy trailers. The company recently added interstate equipment transportation and hauling of aggregate from quarries to concrete plants to its service offerings.

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The Hjort fleet operates year-round hauling material from excavating projects and transporting excavating equipment to job sites. It also works extensively with asphalt firms in Minnesota and bordering states during the road construction season, and its trucks are used for snow removal in the winter.

“Lately, the price of fuel makes us think a lot about the equipment we’re operating and where we’re working, but that’s a cost of doing business,” Randy Hjort said. “With the right vehicles and dedicated and conscientious drivers, we can weather that storm.

“In the past two years as well, as the pandemic impacted the economy in Minnesota, we did wonder how it would affect us,” Hjort continued. “But things didn’t really slow down. We didn’t have to look very far to stay busy. In fact, we had more of a shortage of trucks and drivers than work.

“We don’t advertise our services in newspapers, on billboards, or through other forms of traditional media,” Hjort added. “The quality of our work, our equipment, and our reputation as a good company to do business with keeps us successful.”

Fleet of Kenworths and low driver turnover

Hjort Excavating’s fleet is made up primarily of Kenworth W990 and T880 models equipped with Paccar MX-13 engines and automatic transmissions. Belly dump trailers in the operation are supplied by Midland Trailers, and Trailstar makes most of their end dump units. Low boy models are mainly built by Towmaster.

“Our equipment works well for our operations, so we generally don’t think about shopping around when we need new vehicles,” Hjort related. “We also believe it’s important to have premium vehicles because it helps reduce driver turnover. Equipment that is comfortable and highly maneuverable on job sites causes less fatigue.”

For Hjort, the company’s fleet is part of the reason it has a well-above-industry driver retention rate; its turnover per year is just 10%. When its drivers do leave, he noted, it’s most often due to retirement. “It’s no secret that driver turnover is one of the biggest challenges in the industry,” Hjort said, “and given the volatility in the employee market, that is especially true today.”

Hjort Excavating also promotes safety and works to protect its drivers. For example, the company is installing Pro-Vision onboard video systems with forward- and rear-facing side cameras on its trucks.

But those are not the only reasons that Hjort Excavating enjoys high driver retention. “We’re a family business, so we understand the importance of giving drivers flexibility for family time,” Hjort stated. “We also believe drivers should earn more if they choose to work more, and that benefits them and the company.”

Hjort Excavating is just as focused on making sure its trucks run like new and that downtime is kept to a minimum. That effort is centered on staying on top of preventive maintenance schedules and shopping for parts from a variety of vendors to keep costs to a minimum. The fleet employs one technician who is completing his formal education, while Randy and his father handle service needs as well.

Hjort Excavating’s steady growth is built on years of maintaining strong relationships with customers by providing reliable service, Randy Hjort noted. At the same time, ownership has continued along the family tree.

“I’m proud to continue to help grow what my great-grandfather started,” Hjort said, “and one day my sons may be interested, and we’ll have a fifth generation running the company. To be in business this long, let alone have this many generations of the same family continue to be involved, is pretty special.”

About the Author

Seth Skydel

Seth Skydel, a veteran industry editor, has more than 36 years of experience at fleet management, trucking, and transportation and logistics publications. Today, in editorial and marketing roles, he writes about fleet, service and transportation management, vehicle and information technology, and industry trends and issues. 

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