Whether a snowy winter day, warm summer night or Christmas morning, 45-year MMPA milk haulers Hank and Louise Northrop live by the mantra: no matter what, the milk has to be picked up.
“There were days where I’d get up extra early to plow out my farms before starting my milk route,” Hank recalls. “Our farmers have and will continue to come first.”
In partnership with their children, Kim and Chuck, the Marlette-based Northrop Trucking team has survived the ups and downs of the dairy market equipped with experience, a smile and a can-do attitude.
In His Blood
A third generation hauler, Hank began picking up milk with his father and grandfather in can trucks like the one above. In 1975, Hank married Louise, and in 1979 the couple formed their own business –Northrop Trucking.
“The man has thought of nothing but milk since he started hauling at 16,” Louise smiles. “It’s in his blood. It’s what he knows, and it’s what he loves.”
While it takes mere minutes to pick up on the Northrop’s passion for serving dairy farmers, the early years were far from easy. Hank and Louise both juggled 70-90 hour work weeks hauling milk while balancing the responsibilities of raising a young family.
Yet, the Northrops put their entire lives into the family business coming back from the early struggles of startup costs to owning high quality equipment and growing with the farmers on their route.
Northrop Trucking runs six trucks every day, picking up milk from 11 farms in Sanilac, Huron, Midland and Tuscola counties. When asked why he’s stayed in the milk hauling business, Hank says, “I love working with farmers, and I would do it all over again.”
Family Windshield Time
On Christmas morning, the Northrop children had two options. One: get up at 3 a.m. to open presents. Or two: wait until after mom and dad returned from dropping milk off at the dairy.
“The kids spent a lot of in the cab of the truck, riding along to farms and the dairies. They never wanted to call in sick to school because that meant a day riding along in the milk truck,” Louise says. “But they loved going to the farms, especially when the farmers would come out to talk with a handful of candy. Those are some of my favorite memories – talking with and getting to know our farmers.”
Both Hank and Louise affirm their favorite part of their milk hauling tenure has been watching the families on their farms grow up and start families of their own. From weddings to nights out dancing, they are most grateful to call many of their customers, friends.
“We’ve had some great producers over the years, and two of our farms my father picked up back in 1967. It’s the people we serve and the people who work for us that set us apart,” Hank adds. “We’ve worked hard, but our success also comes from having high quality farmers and reliable employees.”
Bigger Farms, Fewer Stops
Even though the Northrops have been a steady force in the thumb milk hauling business for decades, the dairy business they started working in 45 years ago looks far different from the market of today.
“Farms are a lot bigger than they used to be. We used to travel 100 miles and make 22 stops to fill up our 45,000 pound truck. Now we have one farm that fills up two to three 100,000 pound trucks a day on their own,” Hank explains. “There are fewer farms and plants than when we started hauling.”
While the number of stops have decreased over the years, the volume of milk has and continues to grow. Even as a moderately sized business, with only three non-family employee, the Northrops have managed to grow with their farmers while continuing to provide the personalized service of a family owned and operated company.
Mark Gentner, MMPA member, adds, “The Northrops have been our milk haulers for 20 years, and they haven’t missed a day yet. Snow or rain, no matter the weather, they are here and do a great job. That’s why we’ve stuck with them all of these years.”
And the next generation is following in their parents’ footsteps. “Our parents have built a wonderful business, and we will continue to serve our farmers for many years to come,” Kim and Chuck affirm.
This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of the Michigan Milk Messenger.