116 Years of Honesty, Integrity, and Service
Simonson Lumber Company is a fourth generation family owned and operated building materials supplier whose success has been founded upon the following principles; Listen to customers needs; Deliver the best possible value at a fair price; Always conduct business affairs with honesty and integrity; Treat employees with respect and dignity.
Our company’s founder, Nels Simonson was born in Denmark and immigrated with his family to St Paul in 1880 when he was eight years old. When Nels was still a youngster, he went to work in a railroad roundhouse while his father worked on the railroad. The Simonson family moved to St.Croix Falls, Wisconsin in 1890. Nels worked as a farm hand, a stagecoach driver and opened a meat market before he entered the lumber business. Nels began to acquire real estate, purchasing farms near St. Croix Falls and selling them while retaining the timber rights.
A horse-drawn wagon, a pile of logs, a shed and few acres of land is how the town of Dresser, Wisconsin was founded. Nels Simonson actually incorporated the town as Dresser Junction, Wisconsin with the formation of his sawmill. Dresser is approximately 7 miles from St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin.
Nels built a shed, hauled in some logs and began his sawmill operation. A few of his friends helped him in the day-to-day running of the mill. Every day at sunrise, Nels and his crew would harvest and move the timber. Next came the debarking and then the actual sawing of the lumber. It didn't take Nels long to figure out a better way to keep track of sizes and quantities. He built a lumber barn with shelf areas along both walls and a driveway/walkway down the middle. This was a more efficient way to organize his business.
Nels decided that besides selling to lumber distributors, he would become a distributor himself. His business evolved from a sawmill to lumber yard in 1913. Nels opened the first Simonson Lumber Company in St. Croix Falls Wisconsin. Always sensitive to the needs of his customers, Nels realized that his customers needed more than lumber. He expanded his product offerings to include hardware and paint.
Business boomed. Nels’ enterprising business efforts resulted in rapid expansion which also created more and more responsibility. To better serve his customers, he added delivery services. He recruited some friends with horses and wagons and had them haul loads to builder job sites.
Nels noticed that he was using a lot of coal to run his operation. So were other local companies. Since he had space for expansion, he seized another opportunity. He began bringing in the coal for sale. Nels had developed from a sawmill into a lumberyard offering not only lumber, but paint, hardware, and coal. Nels used his economic savvy to offer discounts for cash purchases.
Business was better than he ever expected, yet Nels was always thinking of ways to improve his business. Throughout most of the 1920’s, he had created business opportunities in western Wisconsin. Nels was keenly aware of possibilities down the road, the railroad that is. Nels seized the rail of opportunity that led to up and coming communities in Minnesota.
In 1927 Nels Simonson made his debut in the St. Cloud area with Simonson Lumber (Simonson Cashway Company). As always, he was extremely dedicated to making things work. He slept out in the cement shed, (insulation shed) and took the train back to St. Croix Falls on weekends to spend time with his family. He hired a local trucking company to haul loads for him. The community of St. Cloud grew fast and furiously, and so did Nels’ new business. Nels served the growing community with lumber, coal, building materials, hardware, and paint.
Nels realized another window of opportunity with another rapidly growing industry - the gasoline business. With more and more cars in production, Nels opened Simonson Gas Stations. The gas stations were a welcome addition to the prospering business.
Simonson Lumber and Cashway Company were getting larger and larger. Nels started to pass some of the business on to his children - the next generation, Archibald, Estelle, and Elizabeth. Nels helped his son Archibald establish a lumberyard in Minneapolis. But the business was heavy in accounts receivable, and when the depression came, people couldn’t pay their bills. Arch soon split from the origination, and Frank and Elizabeth Hobbs continued on with the St. Cloud area business. Today, their three sons, Michael, Stephen and Richard Hobbs own and run the company.
Archibald Fletcher Simonson. In his early railroad employment, Nels Simonson had often taken train rides to Crookston, Minn., and he remembered the rich Red River Valley farmland he had seen. He encouraged his son to set up a lumber business in Grand Forks, ND. With help from his father in 1932, Archibald Simonson located a piece of property along North 3rd street and started Simonson Cash Supply. It wasn’t the best of times to set up a business, but Archibald Simonson had inherited his father’s business savvy. Arch’s business began with very little inventory; he tore down old barns and sold the salvage timber as rough-cut lumber. Arch had to borrow money from a fellow in Minneapolis to stock his yard, and purchased lumber and building materials from him until he paid off the loan. To create the appearance that his lumberyard had ample inventory, Arch would stack full kegs of nails on top of a stack of empty kegs.
Arch rented a house with his wife and two boys at 1012 Reaves Drive, Grand Forks and worked long hours with bagged lunches. Arch later purchased a home at 1510 Belmont Rd and lived there, with his family, for the remainder of his life.
Right to Left Peter, Carroll, John, and Uncle Warner Taylor, Carroll’s brother
Arch sold rough-cut lumber, coal, petroleum, and Murphy’s Cut Cost Concentrate to customers. During those times, customers also wanted to trade chickens or coal for lumber. He soon purchased the Allis Chalmers franchise and traded tractors for farm horses, which he then hauled to International Falls MN, to sell to the logging industry.
In part of Simonson’s Cash Supply, in 1933 Simonson sold petroleum products to customers in town and to farmers, when they would come to town. Depending upon the amount of the customer’s purchase and/or the distance they traveled to get to him, Arch would give the customers a portion of the fuel purchase at no charge as part of a “Free Delivery Service”.
In 1936, Arch went on to start Simonson Cash Supply in Grafton and in 1940, he purchased a cattail swamp on Main Avenue Fargo ND and Simonson Cash Supply in Fargo was started. Arch’s life ended prematurely in 1941 after a Northwest Orient plane crashed in Fargo, Nels Simonson to oversee the business operations until Pete and John took over the business in the mid 50’s. Left Peter, Archibald, and John. Right: Peter and John at Camp Rucker Alabama.
Peter Thomas Simonson faced the toughest business decision of his life at the age of 13. His father Archibald Simonson, shortly before 2 am, a Northwest Airlines DC-3 – disabled by ice on its wings as it approached the Fargo airport – crashed landed in a farm field north of Moorhead. Only the pilot, Capt. Clarence Bates, who was thrown out of the plane survived. Archibald Simonson was among the 14 who perished, either from impact, the immediate explosion or in the fire that engulfed the cabin. It was shortly after the tragedy that Pete’s grandfather, Nels Simonson, sat him down for a talk. He said that if he didn’t want to go into the lumber business he would sell out. The decision was made right there. He would follow his father’s footsteps into the lumber business.
Nels took Pete Simonson and his younger brother, John, under his wing. He supervised the business while the boys went to school. He taught them what he knew about business.
Pete began working at the Grand Forks lumberyard’s adjacent Simonson gas station in 1947 and took over the lumber operation after graduating from the University of North Dakota in 1951. John Simonson joined the business and concentrated on running the gasoline stations.
John and Peter soon thereafter split the gasoline operation away from Simonson Cash Supply, now Simonson Lumber and Hardware, and formed a new corporation, Simonson Station Stores. With this new corporation, John and Peter expanded the petroleum end of the business to eight stores throughout North Dakota during the 50's, 60's and 70's. Together, they operated some of the most successful retail petroleum outlets and lumberyards in the region for over 40 years.
Simonson lumber stores have survived through fires and flood under Pete Simonson’s leadership. The Grand Forks store burned in 1962, the Fargo store burned in 1963, and the Grafton store in 1994. The Fargo fire was ignited around noon on Dec 23. The guys in the store that year wanted to get in the Christmas spirit, so they strung lights on a tree and placed it in front of the store’s display window. An electrical fire ignited the tree and sparked a spectacular fire that quickly tore through the store, fueled by chemicals in paints, stains and other products. The Grand Forks store, and most of Grand Forks flooded in the spring of 1997.
For over 70 years the Simonson family continues to the business practices set forth by Nels Simonson and passed on by Arch Simonson: Quality products and services at a fair price.
The fourth generation of Simonson family also lives by the words of Peter T Simonson: “Treat your employees as human beings and be honest in your dealings.”
Simonson Lumber and Hardware is currently owned by Pete T and Marilyn J Simonson and operated by his two sons Pete D Simonson, Richard Simonson, son in law Tom Skaro and daughter Kim Skaro. Simonson Station Stores is currently owned and operated by John Simonson and his son Arch Simonson.