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Keeping pace with agriculture

By Staff | Mar 9, 2012

KEITH KRAGER, facing camera by loading chute, loads cattle on a Montana stop. The Kragers have hauled cattle for Ida County farmers since 1936 when founder Clarence Krager owned only one truck and could haul just eight fat cattle at a time to Chicago or the Sioux City stockyards. Keith’s father, Bernie Krager, was part of the transition to larger cattle yards. “The trucks got bigger over the years,” he said, “and we were able to keep up with larger farms.”

By Doug Clough

Farm News staff writer

IDA?GROVE – On a farm just north of Ida Grove during the early 1900s, the Krager family was a multi-commodity farm family with grain and livestock.

The Kragers weren’t any different from the 40 percent of the nation that made up the agricultural workforce.

However, Clarence Krager, one of two Krager boys, saw his future a little differently from others who planned to farm like their parents.

CLARENCE KRAGER, circa 1960, climbs aboard one of the many trucks he owned and operated during his lifetime in serving Ida County farmers. When Krager began his trucking company in 1936, he started a business that is now operated in part by his son, daughter-in-law and grandsons.

“There was only one other trucking company in the area those days,” Clarence Krager said. “Growing up, I always wanted to be my own boss and thought there was room for another trucker for Ida County farmers.”

The year was 1936 and Clarence 25 years old.

Century mark

Krager’s first truck was a blue Chevrolet half-ton. His was a one-man operation that could haul eight fat cattle or 150 bushels of corn.

As yields grew, Krager would hire more men and acquire five more trucks in his youthful heyday.

It doesn’t take a historian to know that agribusiness was much different when Krager began his company in 1936.

“Even through the 1970s,” said Krager, “the people I worked for, our area farmers, were my customers.

“It was nothing for us to sit down and have a sandwich and a bottle of beer together.”

Krager’s son, Bernie, who took over operations in 1985 with his wife Betty, remembers those days well.

“When I was a kid,” he said, “my folks would settle accounts with their customers in December. I would help them with the novelties we’d give to farmers as they stopped to settle with Mom [Gertrude Krager] who did the books.

“I remember giving out 98 pens imprinted with Krager Trucking on them one year. Can you imagine that? Ninety-eight farmers in Ida County?”

Krager said he’s hauled for his family’s namesake since 1957 and not even out of school, he said.

“Clarence was a trucker who knew what he was doing,” said Leon Petersen, a farmer who utilized both generations’ services. “He knew how to take care of cattle.

“He was very patient; if the cattle wouldn’t go up the chute, he’d never cuss them. Clarence was easy to do business with.”

Petersen’s wife, Joan has a novelty ice pick printed with “Krager Trucking and Shelling” on the handle. It’s a keeper, reminiscent of the days that Krager offered a corn shelling service.

The eldest Krager acknowledges how much has changed in his chosen career and in agriculture.

“When I trucked, we worked with and knew our customers,” said Krager. “We had a man who shelled corn for us for a time. ‘Cornsheller Pete’ was his nickname … he was an interesting character.

“We knew we had to make money, but we also watched what we spent.”

When the Ida Grove Cooperative went bankrupt in the 1960s, the Kragers stepped up to the plate and hauled grain to transfer stations in Council Bluffs among other places.

“We did a pretty good job of finding where our help was needed,” said Bernie Krager. “There was even a time during a drought when we went up to Minnesota to haul grain.

“We’ve always done what we needed to do.”

In 1985, the family business transitioned to Bernie Krager Trucking.

Founder Clarence remained involved in the business through the early 1990s. Bernie Krager’s sons – Kevin, Keith and Kris – are active in the business.

“I can remember sitting in Grandpa’s truck on the way to the Sioux City Stockyards,” said Keith Krager. “My brothers and I would find places to sit up front with Grandpa.

“We really enjoyed those trips. We would stop on the way back for something to eat with him. I suppose that’s how it gets in your blood.”

In the span of time that son helped father, father helped son, and grandsons have worked with both, much has changed according to the American Farm Bureau.

By 1960, the number of tractors outpaced mules and horses on farms by 1.7 million. By 1970, there were 3 million farms compared to the 6.5 million when Clarence Krager began his family business.

Farms grew from 157 acres on average to 369 acres. Fewer farmers were able to farm more land and raise more livestock.

“Our trucks got bigger over the years, of course,” said Bernie Krager. “We had fewer customers, but the yields and head of cattle and hogs increased, too.

“We were able to keep up with it.”

The 1980s changed farming once again and the Kragers were not immune to the symptoms.

Not only did tractors and combines get bigger, but technology as a whole made farmers more productive and along with other factors ushered in the evolution of corporation as farmer.

“We saw a real transition to large business farming,” Keith Krager said. “IBP became one of our largest customers. The folks that we see on the farm are often employed by corporations, too.”

Since the 1990s, the changes in how farms operate and who the Kragers truck for have settled a bit.

A couple changes have occurred within the trucking outfit itself including:

  • Keith and brother Kris do the dispatch work.
  • Kevin Krager, the oldest of the three, trucks now for area industry.
  • Bernie Krager is still active in the business that was handed down from his dad.
  • Betty Krager, who originates from a trucking family, still manages the office.

When asked what is it about the Kragers that have allowed their trucking company to stand the test of time, Keith Krager said:

“It’s our reputation, I guess. Only about 5 percent of our customers are farmers we directly work for, but they, like their parents before them, speak highly of our service and integrity.

“We couldn’t have gotten accounts from IBP, Farmland, Smithfield Foods and others if they didn’t feel about us the way they do.”

Krager’s assessment was echoed by the 300 or so folks that attended Clarence’s century birthday open house.

While many of Clarence’s customers are gone, many of their children and those childrens’ children came to show their respect for everything he, his son, and his grandsons have meant to them.

The Kragers said visitors’ comments showed them that it’s a rare moment that three generations have the same appeal to a changing customer-base – a testament to all the people behind this family trucking business.

Contact Doug Clough at douglasclough@gmail.com.

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