“I’d just go in and watch them work,” Severson says. “If he was laying on the ground or something and needed a tool, I’d be there handing tools to him.”
He worked restaurant jobs during high school, graduated in 1961, then washed trailers for Indian Head Truck Lines. “If you worked for them for 60 days you had to join the union, so they’d work you for 59 days,” Severson says. “Back then, you could leave one job and knock on the door somewhere and get another, so I found work from noon to six at a gas station immediately after.”
One 1963 day, just after starting his shift at Rud’s DX gas station in St. Paul he met Stanley Pittelkow, owner of the Northwest Transfer and Warehousing straight-truck fleet. Pittelkow brought in one of his big Chevrolet fleet trucks for service, Severson says. “He said, ‘If you need the truck moved, my son’s across the street at the pool hall. Call and he’ll come in and move it.’”
That wouldn’t be necessary, Severson told him. “I’ve driven trucks like this.”
He didn’t tell Pittelkow that he’d only done so moving trailers at the Indian Head yard. “He offered me a job driving right there,” Severson says, and he worked for Northwest as a company driver for upward of a decade, becoming a trusted hand not only behind the wheel but in the shop on slow freight days.
Severson led Pittelkow to buy the fleet’s first tandem tractor, an International, which Severson then began driving. Thus began Severson’s combination-unit career with somewhat longer, regional-haul freight.
That gave him the itch to test the waters of on-highway independence further. Four years after marrying his wife now of 40-plus years, Linda, in 1970, Severson bought his first truck – a 1972 International CO4070B TranStar – from an owner-operator already leased to the former International Transport of Rochester, Minn., where Severson became a leased owner-operator.
His first truly long-haul load was a disaster, as he puts it. With the closing process underway on a house he was buying in Stacy, Minn., he loaded machinery from a recently closed brewery in Savage, Minn., bound for Tampa, Fla. “By the time I got to Evansville, Ind., I’d broken down four times,” blowing an air bag on the carrier-owned flatbed each time,” he says. “Finally at Evansville I pulled into a Fruehauf dealer and they fixed it.”
Later on that same haul, stuck in Regina, Saskatchewan, on a Friday and looking at the closing in Stacy Monday, IT reps were downright “nasty” about his need to get home, which they’d known about for weeks, Severson says. Finally, “We closed on the house Monday morning and I left IT,” Severson says.
His stepfather, Mike Franzmeier, had a truck leased to then St. Paul-headquartered Dart Transit Company and convinced Severson to give them a try. He and his 1972 International found their home there.
“It was an all-cabover company at the time,” Severson says, made up primarily of owner-operators. “When I first started there, I’d run St. Paul to Green Bay or Milwaukee or Chicago, every once in a while down to Indianapolis or to Michigan and back.” The routes conveniently brought him many nights to Linda and, soon enough, their daughters Meghan (born in 1979) and Miranda (1986).