Johnson Feed Journeys from Horse and Wagon in 1920 to T680 Next Generation Today
CANTON, S.D., Sept. 26, 2022 – When Carl Johnson founded City Dray Line (now Johnson Feed, Inc.) in 1920, the Prohibition era had just begun, Warren G. Harding was elected U.S. president, and car production was starting to ramp up to meet the demands of middle-class Americans. The trucking industry as we know it today was in its infancy, with most major truck manufacturers not yet established.
In fact, when City Dray Line first opened for business, the company used a horse and wagon to deliver coal and other supplies to farmers located near the small town of Fairview in Southeast South Dakota.
In the 1940s, the company expanded its operation to include mixing, grinding, and selling chicken feed and started a chicken hatchery to raise chicks. A few years later, livestock feed products and local trucking services were added to the mix. In the late 1970s, the permanent company name Johnson Feed, Inc. was established.
Today, the Johnson family legacy lives on – with the company recently celebrating 100 years in business. Johnson Feed is now co-owned by Todd Johnson and Mitch Johnson (Carl Johnson’s great-grandchildren). The company is also co-owned by three of Todd’s children – Jordan, Josie and Bailey – representing the 5th generation of Johnson’s to be involved.
Johnson Feed operates 200 Kenworth T680s and has contracts with 120 owner operators. The majority of Johnson Feed’s company trucks are equipped with 76-inch sleepers, 450-hp engines, and 12-speed automated or 13-speed manual transmissions. In addition to providing trucking services, the company sells farm supplies, salt products, pet food, and other specialty products.
“The late ’80s is when we really started to grow the trucking side of our business and we’ve been growing at a 10-15% clip every year since,” said Todd Johnson. “We haul everything from meat and ice cream to produce, grain and furniture across Western, Southern, Southeast and Midwestern states. We have more than 1,000 reefer, dry van, and hopper-bottom trailers and run a drop and hook operation, when possible, to keep our customer’s freight moving as quickly as possible.”
In 2007, the company began the process of converting 100% of its fleet to Kenworth’s aerodynamic models, starting with the Kenworth T660 and later the T680 after its 2012 introduction. Last year, Johnson Feed added Kenworth’s latest aerodynamic model to the mix – the Kenworth T680 Next Generation. In addition to the 40 T680 Next Gens with 76-inch sleepers the company is currently operating, Johnson Feed will receive 20 more of that model from Sioux Falls Kenworth later this year.
“Dealer support and fuel economy were the primary factors we considered when we decided to move forward with Kenworth’s lineup of T6 models,” said Todd. “Through the years, the relationships we’ve built and support we receive from our local Kenworth dealer as well as the reliability and performance we get from our Kenworths has been tremendous. Kenworth continues to raise the bar when it comes to in-cab technology, performance and comfort every time they come to market with a new truck. We’ve been real pleased with our trucks and so have our drivers.”
Since adding the T680 Next Gen, Todd said his company drivers are noticing several key improvements with the new trucks compared to its predecessor. “Our Next Gens are more fuel efficient than the previous T680 and drivers are reporting a smoother, quieter, and more comfortable ride. The new technology features, like the 15-inch digital display and Kenworth SmartWheel® are additions drivers are finding useful too. It’s a great truck, and the new design with the headlights really makes it look sharp.”
According to Todd, Johnson Feed typically trades in its trucks after 3-4 years in operation or after 500,000 miles. “That way we keep our drivers in newer equipment and maximize our resale value at trade in. It’s a formula that works well for us and it helps keep our drivers happy and more comfortable on the road.”
Doing right by its drivers is something Johnson Feed takes pride in. It’s why nearly half of the company’s drivers have driven at least one million miles with the company. Driver turnover is well-below industry average with the company’s turnover less than 20%.
“We make sure we get our drivers home every week so they can spend time with their families, provide them with premium trucks and spec them with driver amenities such as APUs and inverters to power refrigerator units and other electronic devices they have,” said Todd. “The functionality of the sleeper units, with the folding upper bunks, allows drivers to optimize space and there is plenty of storage space for drivers to pack personal belongings when they’re out on the road. The premium heated and ventilated seats also make for a more comfortable ride when our drivers are behind the wheel.”
Moving forward, Todd said he expects the company will continue to phase out its T680 classics for T680 Next Gens. “We’ll keep adding T680 Next Gens as quickly as we can get our hands on them,” said Todd with a chuckle. “We expect trucks built by Kenworth to be high quality and they continue to be. Our drivers love them and the performance of our trucks, backed by the support of our Kenworth dealer helps us operate more efficiently.”