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Valley Cartage: 75 years, 3 generations

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From the left are Eric, Jerry, Sue and Todd Gilbert. Todd joined the company in 1993 and Eric has recently returned after working on his own. Photo by Margaret A. Ontl2 / 3
Norman Gilbert founded Gilbert Truck Line in 1935. In 1961 it was renamed Valley Cartage when he became partners with Tony Zeuli. Submitted photo3 / 3

Times have changed since Norman Gilbert, son of Harry and Sarah, started Gilbert Truck Line. His first fare, in 1935, was to haul a team of horses to Trempealeau for the tidy sum of $1.50.

Today, the company he started is called Valley Cartage and it is operated by his son Jerry and grandson Todd. The company has over 200 employees servicing Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, South Dakota, North Dakota and Nebraska.

Jerry didn't plan to go in to the business but after three years in the U.S. Army, serving in West Berlin, his dad offered him a job.

"Dad was busy and he needed help," said Jerry Gilbert. "We served just St. Croix and Pierce counties as a common carrier." At the time they had two straight line trucks and two semi-tractors.

In 1975, five years after joining his dad in business, Jerry and his wife Sue purchased Valley Cartage from Norman and his business partner Tony Zeuli. They continued to operate out of the Eleventh Street terminal Norman had built in 1948.

"In 1980 came deregulation," said Jerry. "I applied for and got 48 state authority." That was the beginning of expansion. They could now service their customers, Nor-Lake, Toro and Roll Source more completely.

"We still maintained all our other customers as well," said Jerry. Semi-disaster struck in 1991, when the roof of the Eleventh Street terminal collapsed under the weight of the Halloween blizzard snowfall. Jerry, who was changing a tire on a semi tractor, ran for his life.

The building was rebuilt and Valley Cartage stayed at that location until 2000.

In the meantime, son Todd had graduated from Hudson High School in 1992 and attended Normandale Community College to play football.

It was during a business internship at Valley Cartage that Todd discovered he might have a knack for the trucking industry.

"Todd came on in 1993 as an employee," said Jerry. Since then, his youth and entrepreneurial spirit has led Valley Cartage to expand in many ways.

"I saw a lot of potential," said Todd. "Dad had always kept it small and we had a lot of dedicated customers." In 1995 and 1998 Valley Cartage purchased River Falls Transfer and Thomas Truck Lines respectively.

In 2000, the company moved the headquarters from the 1948 building on Eleventh Street to the new facility at 3011 Enloe St. in the St. Croix Business Park. At that time there were 12 employees.

In the next decade, the company made strategic purchases and expansions including building terminals in La Crosse and St. Joseph, Minn. In 2003 the Valley Management Group was formed to assist customers with all of their transportation needs.

"They kept asking us to do more and this way we can offer them full or partial truck service, expedited shipping, air freight and coordination of import and export containers," said Todd. "In 2007 Valley Management Group was named Inc. magazine's 175th fastest growing private company in America."

In the mean time Valley Cartage continued to grow and expand. Today, they offer overnight LTL (less-than-truckload) service to points in Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska.

"The ability to grow the last few years has a lot to do with our unbelievable employees," said Todd, who is now the president of Valley Cartage. "They are dedicated and we are fortunate to have them. They reflect our core values."

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Valley Cartage 75th Anniversary Open House May 8

  • 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 3011 Enloe Street, in the St. Croix Business Park. Program will be at 1 p.m.
  • Open to the public

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