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Decker trucks represent Fort Dodge on nation’s highways

Paul Stevens

Decker Truck Line Inc. is Fort Dodge’s ambassador to travelers on the nation’s highways.

Along the millions of miles of U.S. interstates and roadways, the bright red-and-gold semi-trailer trucks operated by its drivers make no secret that they’re from Fort Dodge. The city’s name is emblazoned on the sides of the cabs and the back of the trailers.

And people notice, said Topeka, Kansas-based driver Chad Hazelton, who operates his Decker rig through Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, New Mexico and Texas, hauling bakery products from the Pepperidge Farms factory in Downers Grove, Illinois.

“I see Iowa-plated cars and pickups every week,” he said. “With a lot of them, the passenger will look up and smile and wave like they know me. I’m sure it’s because of the name.”

Steve Alliger, who has driven out of the Fort Dodge facility for 22 years, has a sister who lives in the Wichita area.

“I’ve got some relatives who when they travel and see a Decker truck, they always want to see if it’s me,” he said. ”I’ve had some Iowa-plated cars wave at us when they pass on the interstate. It’s the coloring of the cabs, the striping on the side of the trailer.”

The same holds true at Decker’s headquarters in Fort Dodge where Don Decker, president and chairman of the nearly 90-year-old company, said he sometimes receives emails from people who spot Decker trucks – from California to Texas to New York.

“We quietly like to be out there getting the job done,” he said, calling the visibility “gratifying.”

“I got an email from a guy in Queens, New York, who said, ‘I never thought Decker would be seen in New York City’,” he added.

The eye-catching red-and-yellow color scheme has existed since the company’s founding in the early 1930s. Starting with a single Model B Ford truck, Loren Decker and his younger brother, Dale, realized their dream of owning a trucking company. It was involved in those early days with the transportation of canned goods, plumbing fixtures, gypsum products and windmills between Iowa and adjacent states. Don Decker, the son of Dale Decker, said the founders even copyrighted the yellow color – as Decker cream.

Dale Decker served with the Marine Corps during World War II, earning a Purple Heart, and in 1945 rejoined Loren in the business. Those Decker colors, not surprisingly, are similar to the scarlet and gold of the Marines, noted Don Decker, who added, “At one time, we had stickers on the back of every truck – ‘Proud to be a Marine.'” In 1976, Loren retired and sold his interest in the company to Dale and Dale’s two sons, Don and Duane.

The brothers set out to expand the company’s operations, both in size of territory and in the types of commodities transported. In the 10 years that followed, Decker’s revenues increased tenfold and its operations extended to a nationwide system of carrying all types of products under both its nationwide common and contract carrier authority.

In 1993, Don Decker acquired sole ownership of the company. Its management team consists primarily of individuals who have grown within the company as some began their career as drivers. Don Decker is among them: he learned to drive Decker trucks at age 17 while at Fort Dodge Senior High School and continued working there while attending Iowa Central Community College in 1966-68 before going on to Drake.

“I would take a load of meat from IBP, deliver it to Raft Packing Co. in Waterloo and return home at 8 in the morning, in time to get to class at Iowa Central,” he said.

Decker, which employs about 1,050 people, 350 of them based in Fort Dodge, transports flatbed, refrigerated and dry van freight throughout North America. Currently Decker owns about 800 tractors and 1,700 trailers. Corporate offices are located in Fort Dodge, with additional terminals in Davenport; LeMars; Mediapolis; Hammond, Indiana; Bessemer, Alabama; and Missoula, Montana. It also has logistics centers in Des Moines, Missoula and a third set to open Oct. 1 in Nashville.

The privately held company ranks 66th on the 2019 Fleet Owner 500 list of the largest for-hire carriers and is ranked fifth among Iowa carriers. It operates in all 48 contiguous states and in five provinces of Canada. Due to a driver shortage that plagues most trucking companies, Decker has about 55 trucks that are idle.

One truck that is never idle in the fall is a fixture for Iowa State University’s football program. For more than 25 years, a Decker truck – decked out in Iowa State colors – has transported football equipment to all of the Cyclones’ road games. When the Cyclones are playing in Ames, the tractor-trailer sits prominently near the stadium in the parking lot for all to see.

“We do have customers who are loyal University of Iowa fans and I get some static for that,” said Don Decker, who is a graduate of Drake University as is his son Dale, executive vice president and the third generation to be involved in the company.

Dale, 33, is one of two children of Don and his wife Dianne. Daughter Ashley, 30, lives in Nashville where she does styling work for entertainers and is involved in creating the newest Decker logistics office – for moving freight and locating trucks to transport freight.

Decker said the company’s biggest challenge is “attracting and keeping quality truck drivers” – with obstacles that include government regulations on working hours and a lifestyle that some would not enjoy. “It’s hard work – the hours on the road and dealing with traffic, the demands placed on carriers by shippers…The salary? It depends on how hard they want to work – it can be around $70,000 a year, and some can make over $100,000 a year.”

“I just like driving trucks, I go wherever they send me,” said Steve Falliger, who has logged 3 million miles in 22 years as a Decker driver – accident-free and without a traffic ticket – and normally is on the road for two to three weeks at a time. He was named the company’s 2018 Grand Champion Driver and the truck he drives is a Peterbilt cab that was the 2,500thpurchased by Decker from Peterbilt, in July.

Eric Jorgensen, president of JX Enterprises in Hartland, Wisconsin, was the dealership that sold Decker the truck. “We’ve sold more to Decker than any other truck line,” Jorgensen said. He loves the color scheme used. “They’re awesome to see on the road,” he said. “There are other lines that use red and yellow, but they don’t look as good as these Peterbilts.”