In 1955, Russell Hjort pursued his dream of becoming his own boss and established Hjort Excavating, a company that specialized in providing small residential excavating services in central Minnesota.
Once a one-man operation with Russell doing most of the labor, the company has grown to become a leading provider of residential and commercial excavating and trucking services in Minnesota with the help of Russell’s three sons – Lawrence, Carl and Dennis. Now in its 67th year in business, company ownership has continued down the family tree with Dean Hjort (Lawrence’s son) currently at the helm and his son, Randy Hjort, managing the trucking division.
“I’m proud to work for the family business and continue to help grow what my great grandfather started,” said Randy. “It’d be great to see my sons take interest in this company when they’re older and have five generations of Hjorts work for the company. To be in business this long, let alone have this many generations of the same family continue to be involved is pretty special.”
The trucking division offers dump, heavy haul, and regional delivery services and is a fast-growing segment within the company. Hjort Excavating’s fleet of 28 trucks – primarily Kenworth W990s and T880s – are both used in dump and heavy haul applications.
Hjort Excavating works extensively with asphalt firms in Minnesota and bordering states, which keeps the company’s Kenworth dump trucks busy during road construction season. The trucks are equipped with PACCAR MX-13 engines and automatic transmissions. During the winter months, the dump trucks are used for snow removal and also haul material from company excavating projects.
Hjort Excavating’s W990 and T880 day cab tractors pull lowboy trailers or belly dumps and transport excavating equipment to job sites or haul aggregate. The company recently added inter-state heavy hauling to its service offerings.
According to Randy, the company first began transitioning its fleet to Kenworths in 2017 to improve the reliability of the trucks it was operating and to provide drivers with high-quality equipment to help reduce turnover and better recruit drivers. The company’s first Kenworth order was for four T880 dump trucks equipped with 455-hp MX-13 engines, purchased through Rihm Kenworth – Coon Rapids. Later that year, when the Kenworth W990 was introduced, Randy saw an opportunity to add Kenworth’s latest long hood to the mix.
“Shane (Corrow, Rihm Kenworth new truck salesman) and I took a trip to the ConExpo-Con/Agg show in 2019 and it was there that I got to see the W990 in-person and tour the truck for the first time,” said Randy. “I was impressed by the attention to detail of the design and layout of the cab and visibility over the hood. I was sold on the truck and knew our drivers would appreciate them.”
Since adding T880s and W990s to the fleet, Randy said the company is experiencing a well-above industry driver retention rate and sees just 10 percent turnover per year. He noted that his list of highly qualified drivers expressing interest in driving for the company continues to grow and helps to fill any open positions.
“It’s no secret that driver turnover is one of the biggest challenges in the industry. Given the volatility in the employee market the past few years, that is especially true today,” said Randy. “The equipment drivers are in every day makes an impact in their overall satisfaction working for a company. Drivers want to be in trucks that they’re comfortable in, enjoy driving, and are reliable. The feedback from our drivers is especially positive with our Kenworths. It’s a key reason we continue to grow our fleet with them.”
On the road, Randy said his drivers are finding the Kenworth W990 to have a sharper turning radius compared to other long hoods on the market. Enhanced visibility and the truck’s quiet cab are other key attributes that make the W990 a hot commodity among its drivers. For even the most tenured drivers, these features provide a more enjoyable driving experience.
“The W990 does an excellent job navigating job sites and drivers appreciate being in classic styled trucks that are easier to drive,” said Randy. “Our drivers experience less fatigue at the end of a long day because it’s a more comfortable ride.”
In addition to its T880s and W990s, Hjort Excavating recently added a Kenworth T680 Next Gen day cab to serve in its heavy haul division. The T680 Next Gen nicknamed “White Thunder,” is used to haul aggregate from quarries to concrete plants. On occasion, the truck will transport heavy equipment cross-country. For long distance trips, the company will put drivers in hotels along the route. The T680 Next Gen features a 500-hp engine and a 12-speed automated transmission.
“It’s a great road truck – we’re able to save at the pump since it’s more aerodynamic and it’s capable of hauling everything we need it to,” said Randy. “The technology inside the cab really stands out. Our drivers appreciate the digital display function which lets them customize the gauges that appear on the screen to match their personal preferences. The feature helps minimize distractions since the drivers can pre-select the gauges they use on a regular basis.”
Hjort Excavating’s first batch of Kenworths it purchased is approaching five years in operation and they continue to run like new, according to Randy. Downtime is kept to a minimum due to the company’s commitment to staying on top of preventative maintenance schedules and support from Rihm Kenworth – Coon Rapids.
“Quality trucks deserve quality care – we do our best to keep our trucks running in top operating condition and as a result, our Kenworths have been consistently reliable for us,” said Randy. “Our customers appreciate the fact that when our trucks show up to a job site, they can expect the job to get done on time without disruptions. Our equipment looks sharp and professional and is driven by drivers who I believe are the best in the state.”
As a small business, Hjort Excavating’s steady growth is built from years of maintaining strong relationships with its customers through reliable service, word-of-mouth referrals, and brand identity through its equipment. Hjort Excavating’s fleet of yellow and black Kenworth trucks with Hjort decals is hard to miss.
“We don’t advertise our services in newspapers, on billboards, or through other forms of traditional media,” said Randy. “Our equipment does our advertising for us. It’s easy to recognize our fleet of Kenworths on the road and we get a lot of compliments on them. The quality of our work and reputation as a good company to do business is what makes us successful.”