Bassett Trucking gains recognition, nearing 60 years

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Mike Bassett sits next to his 1956 GMC 450 in his shop in Wauzeka. The “Placid Blue” paint job would have been available on the 450 model in 1956. (Photo by Kevin Bassett)

Denny Bassett and his son Mike look at the GMC 550 with a 26-foot flatbed used for hauling hay. (Photo courtesy of Mike Bassett)

By Ted Pennekamp

 

The following article is based upon an interview with Mike Bassett, president of Bassett Trucking of Wauzeka, and an article in the magazine “Wheels of Time” as told by Mike Bassett and written by Jim Francis.

Bassett Trucking of Wauzeka, 201 W. Guard St., is closing in on 60 years in business and has been a longtime stalwart in the community.

The three-generation business was started in 1962 by Denny Bassett. It is now run by President Mike Bassett with help from his two sons, James (37) and Kevin (26).

Bassett Trucking, which transports products throughout the lower 48 states and Canada, has recently gained attention through a cover photo on “Wheels of Time” magazine as well as a two-part, 18-page feature article in the September-October, 2020 edition.

“This is a really cool article that came together,” said Mike. “People from all over the United States called or emailed to congratulate us.”

The first article “Trucking in Style” begins on page 28 and is about Mike’s restoration of trucks of a bygone era. “I restore old and antique trucks for a hobby,” says Mike.

One of Mike’s restored trucks is a 1956 GMC 450 as a tribute to his father, Denny. Another is a 1948 International KB-11, along with a rare 1954 Wilson single-axle livestock trailer. This combination has been displayed at several American Truck Historical Society National Conventions in addition to many Midwest truck shows. In 2019, frame up restorations on two GMC 630 tractors, one a 1956 vintage and the other a 1957, were completed. Other restoration projects have also been completed or are planned.

The second article is titled “Badger State’s Best” and chronicles the history of Bassett Trucking.

“We’ve been in Wauzeka the whole time,” said Mike who noted the company now has 20 employees. “We’ve grown a lot over the years.”

Shortly after graduating from Wauzeka High School in 1953, Denny Bassett’s first trucking job was hauling raw milk from area farms in 110-pound cans. The 10-gallon cans had to be double-decked onto a van box truck and delivered to Bob Hazen’s Spring Brook Cheese Factory which was four miles from Wauzeka.

By 1956, Denny landed his first job driving a semi-truck for Dwain and Jean Wolter who owned Wolter’s Truck Lines in Luana, Iowa.

In 1958, Denny’s trucking career was interrupted when he was drafted into the Army, not once, but twice. After being stationed in Missouri, North Carolina and Colorado, Denny returned home in 1961 to marry his wife Norma.

With the birth of their son, Mike, Denny was helping out at his stepfather’s farm and also began driving for a company owned by Lonnie Millinin in Wauzeka.

Denny and several other drivers would load livestock from local buying stations and sale barns. Loads of hogs and cattle often went to Oscar Mayer in Madison, the Milwaukee Stockyards, or the famed Chicago Stockyards. Loads of dairy heifers went to Russellville, Kentucky. What was considered the “prestige haul” were loads of beer, which were transported in insulated van trailers from the Miller Brewery in Milwaukee and Hamm’s Beer from South St. Paul, Minn.

In 1962, Denny purchased his own truck, a 1957 International R-185. Denny’s routes usually allowed him to “get through the house” every weekend.

In the fall of 1965, Denny sold the ‘57 R-185 to purchase his first trucking company with ICC authority from Keenan Jarrett of Gays Mills. The acquisition consisted of two 1956 GMC 630 single-axle tractors, two 1955 Fruehauf 34-foot tandem axle insulated van trailers, and one GMC 550 stub nose, tandem-axle straight truck with a 20-foot van box.

The ICC authority allowed the hauling of apples, lumber, Christmas trees, and livestock. Denny also temporarily replaced the van box off of the straight truck with a 26-foot flat rack so he could haul hay and straw.

In 1965, hay was bought locally for 25 cents per bale, with 300-bale loads trucked to an area 30 miles north of La Crosse where it was sold for 50 cents per bale.

In 1976, Denny purchased a freight delivery business from Lenny Zimple, owner of Zimple Dray Line of Boscobel. The business involved two small straight trucks leased to Briggs Transportation, which provided major service between Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and the surrounding areas.

The Briggs’ semi came from Madison each morning and would unload into Denny’s small warehouse in Boscobel. Deliveries were then made to towns in a 30-mile radius. Pick-ups were also made for outbound freight that would then be reloaded on the semi to go back to Madison.

About this time, Denny introduced his son Mike to the real working world.

“I got involved at an early age,” said Mike. “I began at around 15 when I would skip school and help out on occasion.”

Most of the time, they had a “header” of car tires in the nose of the trailer. These car tires mostly went to Halpin Tire Service of Prairie du Chien.

Mike quit school in 1978 when he was 16 to drive a 1969 Ford F-600 straight truck with an 18-foot van box for his father. The father-son team ran a lot of freight through the warehouse in Boscobel, and Mike couldn’t get enough of the freight hauling business.

Mike’s life took an unexpected turn six months later when he was diagnosed with Transverse-Myelitis, a virus that had developed in his back and has left him paralyzed from the waist down ever since.

Also in 1978, Denny’s wife Norma died from complications with cancer.

Over the ensuing years, however, Bassett Trucking continued to grow, and Mike continued to work with his dad.

Denny drove until July 2005, just two days before his unexpected death.

Dispatching, as well as buying and selling loads of hay and straw kept Mike busy, but it wasn’t enough to satisfy his desire to be a truck driver.

In 1997, Mike bought a 1995 Freightliner FLD-120 set up for a handicapped, wheelchair driver, complete with hand controls. This was a dream come true.

Mike trucked with a co-driver at all times. He said his best co-driver and great friend was Clarence Heisz. From the ground, Mike was able to do a lot of strapping, chaining, and tying down of tarps. Mike drove for four years full time and filled in for 10 years to cover extra loads that came up.

After Mike returned to the office, the business continued to expand.

Mike’s sons, James and Kevin, continue to learn all of the aspects of Bassett Trucking, which now specializes in over-dimensional freight with several types of trailers.

“We do a lot of over-sized loads,” said Mike. James noted, for example, that Bassett Trucking hauls 70,000-gallon milk storage tanks throughout the United States and Canada. The tanks can be up to 88 feet long.

Mike said the tractors being used now are five to six times more powerful than those of yesteryear when his dad, Denny, first started. Bassett Trucking has several trucks on the road.

Mike said the company also enjoys helping area communities. “We’ve hauled Christmas trees for about the last 10 years to the Prairie du Chien Fire Department,” he said. “We also enjoy helping out in Wauzeka and other communities. We support the Wauzeka Fire Department, the schools and the Rod and Gun Club.”

Mike said he greatly appreciates all of his staff and family, especially his wife Tina, for helping to make Bassett Trucking the success it is.

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