The town of Tromsǿ, Norway, may not mean much to us, but for generations of families and now neighbors in Lake Lillian, Minnesota, it is a string that binds them together. It is the root of their lineage. This includes Gregg Hanson, the 6th generation of original homesteaders. Gregg’s grandparents, Gjertina Johnson, and Emil Hanson Junior, immigrated from the Tormsǿ area in 1900 and homesteaded on the Lake Lillian prairie. “They traveled all that way on the boat, they all got scurvy. . . and yet still picked a place full of rocks and sloughs,” Hanson says shaking his head with a laugh. “Just like the home country, I guess!”
Lake Lillian’s history reports that Emil Hanson didn’t have much of a reputation for farming, making young Gjertina’s family nervous about her marriage. But what her husband may have lacked in a green thumb, he made up for in ingenuity.
“He was a visionary,” says Hanson of his grandfather, telling the story of how the idea for the family business began. “At the time he and Gjertina had nine children, including my father Willard” Hanson told “He was working for another company that made cement silos, but the quality was poor. As he sat by the lakeshore he owned on Lake Kandiyohi one day, and he noticed how the wind and waves shaped the sand. It was washed clean. So, he had the idea to try to make cement from it – that was the goal for a high-quality cement product – good, clean sand to create solid concrete.” He found he was right, the mixed sand produced a sustainable concrete silo product. Even better the winter ice would push more of this sand up each year. The vision of Hanson Silo had begun.
As the concrete silo building company grew over the years so did its success. Gregg remembers being a young boy, around nine or ten, and his Dad would buy a new work truck, always a Buick, each year. “It didn’t have a back seat so I remember sitting on the equipment, often a frozen silage chopper, in the back of the truck. I was born in 1948 and the chopper was patented by the company in 1949. I grew up riding along with my Dad when he’d make deliveries.”
The company was successful and that was shared with employees. This was post World War II and plenty of young men had returned home from the war suffering from PTSD and alcoholism. “These were known as ‘men of the world’. They were veterans, and vagabonds; we hired people who others wouldn’t.” Hanson told how his uncle would go to the railyard in Willmar and find men riding the rails. “They’d come from the apple harvest season out west and then ride the rails headed east looking for work. My uncle would pick up the men from the railroad yards and take them to get new clothes, toiletries, and bedding, and then told them when to show up for work. They took care of them, gave them gainful employment, and treated them well.”
The headquarters for Hanson Silo became known as ‘Hansonville’ and was a small city. It contained a shoe shop, a drug store and groceries, and a mess hall that served all the meals, including a noon lunch called dinner and an evening meal, supper. They fed hundreds of men! They even got chocolate cake with it!” Hanson laughed. ‘Hansonville’ expanded as quickly as Hanson Silo employing 350 people over four plants at one point, building 1,200 silos in 1963 alone!
And like most good things that stand the test of time, Hanson Silo has had to reinvent itself. In 1961 they expanded from strictly silos to silo unloading equipment and cattle feeding equipment. And again in 1996, “we needed to stay relevant, keep up with demand, so we started making concrete bunkers,” said Hanson. Most recently, Hanson Silo has added cattle and hog slats to the manufacturing line.
Today, they can boast about manufacturing a range of products, including livestock feed storage and handling equipment, grain storage, precast concrete products, and even deer stands, the newest addition by Gregg’s sons, Matt and Mike, who are now running the family business. It celebrates 108 years in operation this year and is an example of how a close company draws together a family, community, and business for success in Kandiyohi County.
Above: Gregg Hanson shows his story of family history that he shared during a family reunion that included relatives from Norway
*This story was first published in the EDC Fall 2023 newsletter*