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FreightWaves Haul of Fame: Lynden grew from a horse-drawn wagon

The dream to grow his business – and the drive to make it happen

In 1906, Ed Austin began hauling freight with a team of horses and an iron-wheeled wagon in Lynden, Washington. Austin named his company Lynden Transfer after the town. Lynden is about five miles south of the U.S.-Canada, and its population at that time was fewer than 1,150 people.

Twenty years later, in 1926, Austin purchased his first truck to haul cargo from Lynden to Seattle, a distance of about 105 miles and a journey that would take several hours because of the state of the roads at that time. In 1940 Austin bought a semi-truck and trailer and hired Henry “Hank” Jansen as a driver for Lynden Transfer.

After driving for Lynded Transfer for seven years, Jansen and two partners purchased Lynden Transfer in 1947.

Hank Jansen 

While Ed Austin started Lynden Transfer, the Lynden story and the Lynden family of companies would not exist without Hank Jansen. 

An early Lynden Transfer truck and driver. (Photo: Lynden, Inc.)
An early Lynden Transfer truck and driver. (Photo: Lynden, Inc.)

Jansen had moved to Lynden with his family in 1927. He began working at local dairy farms as a teenager and was less than thrilled with the work. His father owned a nursery, and Jansen began driving the nursery’s delivery truck.

He bought his own truck in 1938 and began hauling coal for customers in Whatcom County, the county that included Lynden. When he and his partners bought Lynden Transfer it only had two trucks that ran between Lynden and Seattle, delivering dairy products to Seattle and hauling general freight from Seattle back to Lynden.

As Jansen said, “It was a pretty good little business, but I wanted to expand.” As stated on the Lynden website, “Just how big the company would grow would surprise most people – even Hank Jansen.”

North to Alaska

Jansen believed that expanding the company’s business north – to the Alaska Territory – was the best opportunity to grow the company. His partners were skeptical. In the early 1950s, the Alaska-Canada (Alcan) Highway (a two-lane road for most of its length) would not work for truck deliveries. As Jansen recalled, “I had a pile of letters from friends in the trucking business who said if you get on that run no one will survive that highway.”

The Lynden Transport logo.

But Jansen was not content and continued to dream of expansion to Alaska. Despite the skepticism of his partners and others, Jansen scouted the route in 1953 and lining up customers for delivery of the first load.

In 1954, a Lynden Transfer Kenworth rig left Seattle with a load of fresh meat for delivery to Carr’s Market in Fairbanks. Oscar Roosma and Glen Kok were the team drivers for that first trip and delivered the load in perfect condition. 

Jansen later commented that the successful first trip was the key; after that “it was just a matter of adding trucks.” But for residents of Alaska, that initial truck delivery began the ongoing delivery of fresh produce, milk and meat. It also started what became the Lynden family of companies and helped to make “Lynden” a household name in Alaska.

Under Jansen’s leadership, Lynden combined the willingness to travel the route and service offerings. In the early years, company drivers who faced frozen conditions and equipment were often referred to as “Lynden Legends.” 

Jansen’s dream came true; the company grew from two trucks and two stops to a company that today includes 15 subsidiaries. And the company’s Alaska-Canada delivery route celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2014.

A Lynden box truck next to a Lynden Transport trailer. (Photo: Lynden, Inc.)
A Lynden box truck next to a Lynden Transport trailer. (Photo: Lynden, Inc.)

Growing the business

While supplies to Alaska traveled by air, ship and barge, Lynden Transfer’s trucks were faster than ships and barges and less expensive than airfreight. But the secret to Lynden Transfer’s growth was its service. Jansen said this about the company’s early drivers on the Alaska route, “Some of those old-timers would’ve packed that stuff in the last 20 miles on their backs if they had to.” 

Jansen established the core values of Lynden – “putting the customer first, working hard to offer a quality product and having some fun on the job.”

Lynden’s pioneering did not stop with scheduled truck delivery to Alaska; it continued to grow with transportation and logistics work for the Alaska Pipeline. Since then it has handled transportation and logistics projects around the world. Underscoring it all is the company strategy as expressed by Jansen: “If there is a need for something, fill the gap; take the impossible and make it possible.”

The Lynden, Inc. logo.

Since its humble start under Ed Austin 115 years ago, Lynden Transfer has transformed from the two-stop, two-truck operation that Hank Jansen bought in 1947 to Lynden, Inc. Today’s company is a “multi-modal transportation organization providing air freight, trucking, ocean freight and logistics services to clients worldwide. The Lynden family of companies still operates under Jansen’s original philosophy: Put the customer first, work hard, deliver quality, be the best and have fun doing it.”

The FREIGHTWAVES TOP 500 For-Hire Carriers list includes Lynden (No. 107).

One Comment

  1. I live in Lynden and was unaware of the history of Lynden Freight. I rode my motorcycle to Dead Horse AK in 2014 and kept seeing the Lynden Freight trucks. Incredible story! Thanks for sharing.

Scott Mall

Scott Mall serves as Managing Editor of FreightWaves Classics. He writes articles for the website, edits the SONAR Daily Watch series, marketing material for FreightWaves and a variety of FreightWaves special projects. Mall’s career spans 45 years in public relations, marketing and communications for Fortune 500 corporations, international non-profits, public relations agencies and government agencies.