A family of milk haulers

Swart passes love of job to next generation

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PENNOCK, Minn. — Darren Swart would take his son, Tanner Rohner, and his daughter, Taylor Rohner Swart, on milk routes when they were growing up. Little did he realize those experiences would lead them to follow in his career.

“They were both still in car seats when I brought them early on,” Swart said. “They’d go along with me just to get out of the house and to play with the kids on the other farms.”

Today, Rohner and Rohner Swart drive milk routes and fill in as relief haulers. Swart hauls milk for Meadow Star Dairy, owned and operated by Riverview LLP in Pennock.

With all three drivers hauling milk on various shifts, sometimes over 12 hours a day each, the family’s schedule can be hectic.

“I always run overnights, Taylor runs early mornings, and Tanner works for whoever calls — days and nights,” Swart said. “It’s a revolving door around here. It’s very odd if you see all three of us at home at one time.”

The trio hauls milk to plants in Litchfield and Paynesville. At times, they end up at the same plant at the same time.

“One time we were all at Litchfield, and the lab technician said, ‘You guys have hauled 12 loads of milk in here today; you filled a silo all by yourselves,’” Swart said. “A silo is just short of 600,000 pounds of milk.”

Milk haulers are not limited to their number of hours or miles per day. Swart said while it does not force haulers to limit their hours, it also leads to long days.

“The cows never stop milking, so we have to keep hauling,” Swart said.

The family is able to vacation together because haulers are willing to help each other.

“We’ve all made good connections in the industry, so we know which drivers to call if we need someone to drive for us,” Rohner Swart said. “That’s a nice part of the milk industry. You get so close by spending so much time together at the plants that everyone is willing to help anybody.” 

Swart has been hauling milk since January 1998. The milk hauler for his dad’s farm asked Swart to help with hauling.

“I was only going to haul milk for a few years and then take over the family farm, but they offered me (to purchase) my own truck, and here I am, still hauling milk,” Swart said.

At first, he worked on routes across Stearns County and found he enjoyed the job.

“It was the farmers and the families (that made the job a pleasure),” Swart said. “Instead of having one family, I had 30 families. The people and the kids — I really enjoyed it.”

When Rohner graduated from high school, he chose to work for Swart’s parents, Roger and Mary, milking cows on his dairy farm. A few years later, Rohner Swart was facing graduation.

“I had no idea what I wanted to do after graduation, and Dad suggested getting my (commercial driver’s license) and having that as a backup plan if whatever I wanted to do didn’t work out,” Rohner Swart said. “I fell in love with driving, and I’m still here.”

Rohner Swart began her career in October 2021 when she was 18.

“I love everything about hauling milk — how you get alone time driving to and from the plant, but you’re still getting interaction with people and meeting new people all the time,” Rohner Swart said. “You still get to be around the cows without having to milk them.”

Soon, her brother obtained his CDL.

“Being around (my dad and sister), I thought it would be a good idea, and I started hauling milk last August,” Rohner said. “I’ve always liked to drive. Whenever my friends and I went on trips or to cattle shows, I was always the one driving.”

Even though the siblings had experience with driving tractors and hauling and backing up trailers, hauling milk was complex since the trucks have anywhere from 13-18 gears.

“When you’re accelerating, you’re going through all (the gears) within half a mile,” Rohner said.

Having three haulers in the family allows them to rely on each other. 

Since Swart works nights, his daughter and son use his truck during the day at times. Swart also has a spare truck. Once, when Swart’s truck broke down, they all needed the spare truck, so they shared it. The truck was on the road for 24 hours a day, three days straight. Swart, Rohner and Rohner Swart met each other on the road between their shifts to switch drivers.

Swart’s current truck is the fifth truck he has owned during his nearly 26-year career. His trucks travel 300,000-400,000 miles before being replaced.

“I put on 10,000 miles a month,” Swart said.

The spare truck has 900,000 miles on it and has earned numerous nicknames through the years, the latest being “White Trash.”

“The nicknames change depending on how frustrated we are,” Swart said. “When it is really giving me trouble, my wife calls it ‘Satan’s Mistress.’ It is very well known among everyone at the plant.”

Swart, Rohner and Rohner Swart also rely on each other for staying alert on the road.

“If somebody gets tired, we can call and say, ‘Just talk to me for the next 20 minutes until I get to the plant,’” Swart said. “Once you get to the plant, you’ll start moving and wake up again. Then, you’re good to go.”

When one member of the trio meets another on the road, they wave to each other or flash their headlights in greeting. They also alert each other when weather is a concern. All three said bad weather is about the only time their job is less than enjoyable.

“I’ve been in the ditch a couple of times, I’ve been sliding sideways down a driveway, I’ve had the whole truck sideways on the road, and I’ve had people spin out in front of me,” Swart said.

In his long career, Swart has witnessed changes.

 “When I started, I had 14 stops a day and was hauling 42,000 pounds at my low and about 60,000 pounds at my high,” Swart said. “At my high, I had 35 farms, and now I have one. I haul four loads a day out of Meadow Star at about 220,000 pounds of milk a day. That’s how much the industry has changed.”

He has found that he prefers working nights, with a shift that usually runs from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. or longer.

“You’d think running nights would be boring, but it’s relaxing, and there is not as much traffic,” Swart said. “Lately, the sunrises and the sunsets have been really pretty, and when driving overnight, I see a lot of shooting stars.”

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