Larry Severson’s racecar mechanic skills helped jump start a career as an owner-operator
Owner Operator of the Month
You can’t measure success in dollars and cents, Severson says of his nearly 50-year career. Success, he says, is the feeling you get when you’ve done the job right.
Owner-operator Larry Severson’s first haul was the clincher for the start of a nearly 50-year career.
On a Saturday afternoon in 1963 while working part-time at a local gas station, Severson was asked by a customer if he’d drive a truck for Northwest Transfer.
“It was the following Monday morning I got over to his place where he had the trucks parked and he gave me a load to Country Club food stores, and I took that first truckload,” he says. “I had to use a road map to get there.”
The Vadnais Heights, Minn., resident grew up immersed in the trucking industry. His father, Elmer, was a company driver. Severson, now 68, says he became intrigued by his dad’s work at age 7 or 8.
“Anything that was bigger than a toy tractor is what I was interested in,” he says. “The bigger it was, the better.”
After graduating from high school and before he became a Northwest driver, Severson worked as a team mechanic for drivers who raced late model stock cars around Minnesota on the weekends. Severson says he got involved through friends who knew he was good at working on motors and suspensions, another skill he learned from his father.
He put his mechanic skills to work for himself when, in 1974, having driven for nine years, he bought his first truck, a 1972 International cabover, for $3,200. In the beginning of his career, Severson did all of his own maintenance work and repaired what he could without sending the truck to the shop.
“I’m not as young or as poor as I used to be, and the shop at Dart does a darn good job for me now,” he says of Dart Transit, where he’s been leased since 1975.
Severson has owned nine trucks and prefers Internationals because he says he’s had the best luck with the brand. Using his current truck, a 2001 International, he hauls empty cans and tin plates in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.
Dart spokesman Steve Gundale has known Severson since Gundale began working for the carrier in 1984.
“He’s very concerned about providing good customer service,” Gundale says. “He’s extraordinarily reliable and extraordinarily safe.”
In addition to getting to know drivers and other people he’s met along the road, Severson says, outdoor work is another plus. “If I’m cooped up inside an office and somebody needs help, I can’t do it,” he says. “This way, I can be flexible.”
Linda, his wife of 41 years, tracks his expenses on computer. Over the last five years, Severson has netted between $21,000 and $38,000 a year.
“One thing I learned a long time ago, and I had to learn it the hard way, was that these trucks cost money to run,” he says. “I’ve got to stash so much money every week in order to cover my expenses.”
Severson has received numerous awards for his safe driving, including the 5 million mile safety awards presented by the National Safety Council and the 2004 Driver of the Year award from the Minnesota Trucking Association. He also volunteers as a score collector at the Minnesota Trucking Association’s truck rodeo and assists with the awards banquet.
Outside of trucking, Severson also finds way to serve. Every summer, he volunteers with the Special Olympics and tries to bring in more sponsorship money than the year before.
Severson shovels snow from single mothers’ driveways in his neighborhood. When visiting his lake house in Wisconsin, he says, he mows the yard of a neighbor who is battling an illness.
Owner-operator Steve Drexler, who has known Severson for about 20 years, says he is passionate about everything he does. “I think he just generally cares about the people up there and is willing to help everybody out,” Drexler says.
1942: Born in Turtle Lake, Wis.
1963: First trucking job, with Northwest Transfer
1970: Married Linda Fuller
1974: Purchased first truck and began driving for International Transport
1975: Leased to Dart Transit
1979: Daughter Meghan born
1986: Daughter Miranda born
In recognition of being named Driver of the Year by the Minnesota Tucking Association, Severson threw out the first pitch at a Minnesota Twins game in 2005. “There were a bunch of people from the company there and the minute I walked out on to the mound they started cheering,” Severson says. “The Twins gave me a jersey and it’s still hanging up in my closet.” As MTA Driver of the Year, he did media interviews and was featured in a television special on driving safety.
When he’s not behind the wheel, Severson enjoys spending time with his family, including his three young grandchildren, on the water at his Wisconsin lake house.
Also, he and his brothers enjoy fishing trips to English River in Ontario, Canada, near Thunder Bay. “We get together once or twice a year and we just take one whole week for ourselves.”
Larry Severson is a finalist in the 2011 Owner-Operator of the Year contest sponsored by Cummins Engines and RAM Truck, and produced by Overdrive and the Truckload Carriers Association. The winner will be announced at TCA’s annual convention March 4-7, 2012, in Orlando, Fla., and will win a Cummins-powered RAM pickup. Visit truckload.org to aply for the 2012 contest. The deadline is Sept. 15.