A SD family quietly builds food-grade, liquid trucking

GARY, S.D. -- The Cliff Viessman Inc. corporate headquarters in Gary, S.D., doesn't immediately appear to be what it is -- a trucking company that employs 400 people and is one of the top 10 haulers of food-grade liquid bulk products in the nation.

A brand new truck awaits service at the Cliff Viessman Inc. terminal at Marshall, Minn., where the company handles corn wet milling products, as well as dairy-related products. (Mikkel Pates / Agweek)

GARY, S.D. -- The Cliff Viessman Inc. corporate headquarters in Gary, S.D., doesn't immediately appear to be what it is -- a trucking company that employs 400 people and is one of the top 10 haulers of food-grade liquid bulk products in the nation.

CVI's office frontage is nestled between two bars on the main street of Gary, a town of about 200 people. It's a typical small town, right along the border, between Canby, Minn., and Clear Lake, S.D., and seven miles from Lake Cochrane, billed as the cleanest lake in the state.

A dozen Viessmans work in various aspects of the business at its various locations.

Cliff Viessman, 82, carries the title of president but largely has handed over the reins to the next generation.

The eldest son is Wayne Viessman. His chief executive officer digs are the end of a 145-foot hallway. Viessman's office is tidy, decorated with signs of his passions -- photographs of shiny truck trailers and a case full of scale-models of truck tractors. On the walls are team photos of nationally ranked slow-pitch softball teams. (He used to play and coach, but now is "just a sponsor.")


Wayne Viessman says the long, narrow headquarters grew in stages. The front office originally was 30 by 60, built in 1987, and grew with the company -- another 25 feet in 1994; 40 feet in 1998; 50 feet (up and downstairs) in 2007.

Viessman acknowledges his company is seldom in the news, and seems to like it that way.

"We don't need the publicity," Viessman says.

"We follow agriculture people, that's what we do," Viessman says.

About 75 percent is in food grade liquid. The company hauls milk, dairy products and soybean oil. Much of the rest is in the corn sweetener and sucrose sweeteners, and corn gluten byproducts.

Following agriculture

The basics of the history of the Viessman trucking story can be found on the company's website.

As the fable goes, Wayne's grandfather, Virgil Viessman, started with two milk trucks in Worthington, Minn., was killed in a truck accident in 1965. Cliff, then in his 30s, sold a family fertilizer business in northwest Iowa so he could expand the trucking business. The main office moved to in Clarkfield, Minn., and Cliff built a terminal near an Associated Milk Producers Inc. plant in New Prague, Minn. (Wayne Viessman, born in northwest Iowa, started driving truck for AMPI products from Clarkfield.)


"All the boys hauled milk, as they came of age," he says.

The company has experienced steady growth through the years, mostly as the company increased services to match manufacturing customers, but also acquiring other businesses and adding a terminal -- usually a shop, with wash facilities, if applicable, as well as mechanics and sometimes dispatchers.

It's been a steady rise.

- 1982: AMPI, the company's primary customer, moved to Dawson, Minn., so Cliff Viessman Inc. relocated its headquarters and builds a terminal there. Wayne explains the company already was hauling quite a bit of milk from North Dakota and South Dakota, and the Dawson site saved miles. In Dawson, the company handled both raw product going into the plant and finished product coming out. Most of the cheese products were wrapped in boxes and headed for Wisconsin for finishing in various ways.

- 1984: the company adds a terminal in Marshall, Minn., to handle liquid corn sweetener and wet feed. The company built a truck wash, which includes a specialized "food grade" wash bay. This was the first venture into transporting liquid corn sweetener and wet feed, initially for Minnesota Corn Processors, then a farmer-owned cooperative. The company started with a half-dozen trucks and hauled sweetener up to 400 miles, and corn gluten up to 150 miles.

- 1985: New terminal in Mankato, Minn., designed to handle vegetable oils. The wash bay there is specialized for food grade oils The Viessmans had the contract for hauling soybean oil for Honeymead.

- 1987: Corporate headquarters moves to Gary. There were "good business reasons" for the move, says Dave Korinek, a Breckenridge, Minn., native who is the company's director of client services.

- 1992: New terminal in Columbus, Neb., handles a new corn sweetener producer there, as well as feed, gluten and starch products. This terminal, among other things, handles "sweetener only" tankers for the first time. The Viessmans started there with a half dozen trucks and now run 30 from there, traveling 400 miles with sweetener and 150 miles with the gluten.


- 1995: New terminal in Wahpeton, N.D., with another "sweetener-only" wash bay.

- 1997: Purchased another trucking company in Paynesville, Minn. The facility pulls reefers (refrigerated trailers) for the hauling raw cheese products to manufacturers up to 500 miles away.

- 1999: New terminal in Dayton, Ohio, for sucrose and corn sweetener. They started with five trucks and have increased to more than 40 in that market.

- 2003: Acquired a trucking company in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for another sweetener wet mill, and now running about 30 trucks.

- 2004: New terminal in Renville, Minn., hauls dry, bulk sugar, and today runs about 30 trucks from that location.

A family affair

CVI is truly a family affair. Wayne is Cliff's oldest son. Four of Wayne's children are in the business -- son Ryan is director of operations; Joey, terminal manager in Renville.

Wayne's brother, Doug, is terminal manager in Mankato. His daughter, Abby, a dispatcher in Mankato; Jamie, a receptionist in Mankato.


Brother Randy is terminal manager in Marshall. Randy's son, Jason,, is a dispatcher in Gary.

Brother David is terminal manager in Dawson, Minn. David's son, Andy, is terminal manager in Paynesville and another son, Nate, is a dispatcher in Dawson.

Brother Terry runs the truck parts in Dawson. His son, Trig, is a driver and son, Matt, is in Dawson in sales.

Sister Barb Jorgenson is office manager for CVI corporate in Gary. Her son, Zack, is a dispatcher in Gary.

Brother Rod is a dispatcher in the corporate office. Wayne emphasizes other nieces and nephews also are important in the business. And rounding out the senior management are various nonfamily members, including Tim Miller in safety, Dave Vogt in information technology and Dave Korinek, director of client services, just to name a few.

"We service our customers and try to do the best job we possibly can, and if something isn't done right, we definitely want to fix it," Wayne says. "Safety is really No. 1."

Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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