80 Sweet Years
From ice road trucking in the far reaches of Canada’s Northwest Territory to hauling sugar beets through devastating floods in the Red River Valley and driving through forest fires in Wyoming, Transystems has seen it all since it was founded 80 years ago.
Through those eight long decades, the company has hauled just about every kind of commodity in every kind of weather over every kind of road. It is probably easier to list what Transystems drivers haven’t hauled than what they have.
With that in mind, here is a list of hauling highlights.
A grain haul with an innovative back haul boosted the company in the 1960s. Company founder John Rice devised a system to modify petroleum tankers to haul grain from Montana elevators to a brewery in Seattle and to return to Montana loaded with aviation fuel. The “grain-out, gas-back” system worked flawlessly for many years.
Foreign coins from a Canadian mint to Los Angeles -Tankers full of gin and bourbon
The biggest innovation in Transystems history was in 1968, the year the company prepared to haul its first load of sugar beets for Holly Sugar Corporation in Sidney and Worland. Mike Rice designed a high cubic volume, lightweight, bottom discharge trailer specifically to haul sugar beets. It was an industry changer and put the company in great position to haul sugar beets. Today, Transystems hauls more than 70 percent of the sugar beets produced in the United States. The company’s fleet is among the lightest weight of any carriers moving bulk commodities.
Years ago, Transystems issued special safety equipment to drivers in the Yukon Territory: Flares. Used to warn other drivers of a stopped vehicle, the flares also kept the wolves away when a driver was changing a tire. Company drivers in Canada’s far north were among the first “Ice Road Truckers,’ hauling loads across frozen rivers and lakes.
In 2009, The Red River Valley faced historically devastating flooding, but Transystems kept the sugar beets moving, strategizing alternate routes to feed the factories. Company trucks stepped up to help, hauling sandbags when needed.
The most expensive cargo ever hauled was coffee into Canada during a coffee shortage in the 1970s.
How do you move a 12-foot by 57-foot man camp 1,112 miles? Transystems figured it out 10 years ago when tasked with moving man camps from Boise to Edmonton for use in the Canadian oil fields. The manufacturing project designed and built a fleet of new Extendable trailers to get the job done.
It’s been quite a ride. Here’s how it all started.
Eighty years ago, John S. Rice established Rice Transport with two well-used trucks and two employees. Even John, a trained economist, could not have envisioned where the company stands today with some 1,400 employees and 800 pieces of equipment.
However, way back then, John did foresee a change in how petroleum products would be delivered. His foresight laid the foundation for Transystems.
In 1942, petroleum products were shipped from refineries to bulk distributors by rail. From there, small trucks delivered the fuel to filling stations. John Rice envisioned larger trucks delivering directly from the refineries and pipeline terminals to filling stations. He was spot-on. Direct delivery became the model of distributing refined fuel to fuel stations, like gas stations. Rice Transport, and later, Rice Truck Lines, expanded throughout the 1940a and 1950s.
While remaining primarily a petroleum carrier, there was room for growth. Petroleum demand is typically in the spring and summer. That left Rice Truck Lines with idle tractors and drivers—neither making money.
Twenty-two years after his father founded the company, fresh out of Georgetown University, Mike Rice joined Rice Truck Lines and started searching for a seasonal commodity that would offset the petroleum hauling season.
In 1968, the sweet haul began!
Most would not associate petroleum and sugar in the same sentence, but for Rice Truck Lines, it sounded sweet. Sugar beets are harvested in the fall and delivered to sugar factories in the fall and winter, dovetailing with the company’s existing petroleum hauls.
Mike designed a sugar beet hauling trailer that could discharge beets the same way as rail cars. The novelty in Mike’s trailers was that they were lightweight enough and held large volumes of sugar beets.
Founded in 1942, Transystems is now in the hands of the second and third generations. John’s son, Dan, is chairman of the board and Dan’s son, Errol, is now president of the company. His brother, Curran, is the company’s technical writer.
A vital part of the growth and success of the company is due to extensive training programs in place for decades. In the past 10 years alone, Transystems has trained more than 500 professional drivers.
Milestones in Transystems’ history of transporting sugar beets:
- 1968 – Designed custom trailers to transport sugar beets for Great Western Sugar Company at Billings
- 1969 – Added Holly Sugar Company as customer at Hardin and Sidney, Montana, and Worland and Torrington, Wyoming
- 1970 – Began loading sugar beets for all customers
- 1983 – Added American Crystal Sugar Company as customer at Moorhead, Crookston and East Grand Forks, Minnesota, and Hillsboro and Drayton, North Dakota
- 1984 – Added Hillsboro, North Dakota, factory of American Crystal
- 2001 – Began operations for The Amalgamated Sugar Company in southern Idaho and eastern Oregon
- 2006 – Began operations for Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative
- 2010 – Began designing and manufacturing bottom discharge trailers for hauling sugar beets
- 2011 – Purchased first cleaner-loader for sugar beets
- 2013 – Purchased sugar beet harvester
- 2017 – Returned to Billings to transport beets for Western Sugar
- Come September 2022, Fort Morgan, Colorado, and Scottsbluff, Nebraska, will be seeing a lot more green trucks as Transystems begins hauling sugar beets for Western Sugar Cooperative