Crane Johnson was one of longest-operating businesses

By Louis Hoglund

The Crane Johnson lumber facility in Pelican Rapids officially closed to retail traffic April 28. Staff and operations will be relocated to the Perham Crane Johnson site.

The sole lumber yard in Pelican Rapids, established nearly a century ago, closed Friday, April 28.

Crane Johnson acquired the yard from the Stenerson family about 90 years ago. With its closing, the local business and staff will merge with the Perham Crane Johnson operation. 

“We’re keeping the building and inventory here until fall, to service area contractors. But the retail operation for the general public closed (Friday),” said Dallas Meyer, Pelican manager, who has been with the Pelican Crane Johnson for nearly 30 years. 

“We’ll be completely out of here, with no inventory, trucks, or personnel after October,” said Meyer. 

All four employees, including Meyer, will work at the expanding Perham location. A large warehouse has been added, land has been purchased, and offices will be expanded in Perham. Staff at the Perham site will total nine, with the merger of the yards. 

As for the approximate one-acre Pelican Crane Johnson site, with two warehouses, outdoor storage, and office-showroom, Meyer said there is a possible buyer, but he couldn’t disclose further information. However, he said the prospect is not a lumber operation. 

For local contractors and home do-it-yourself types, the closing moves retail lumber generally about a half hour or more away from Pelican, in all directions.

Crane Johnson’s long connection to Pelican Rapids is reflected in the above advertisement, in the 1958 city history book, and below, an ad in the 1983 book. 

“It’s not a good deal. I hate to see it go away,” said Mert Ouren, of the three-generation Ouren Construction. “It’s not good for the town, too….But it’s getting hard to keep these small yards open, when you have the Menards and Home Depots of the world.”

The Ouren family has been a customer of Crane Johnson for about a half-century. 

Ouren said he would likely stay with Crane Johnson. “As a contractor, we’d much rather work with a yard where they know what you need, how you build, and how everything fits together,” said Ouren. “But it won’t be handy. You’re always looking to grab something at the yard in the morning.” 

According to Meyer, much of Pelican’s volume and deliveries were to the north and east anyway, which makes the Perham Crane Johnson within transport range. 

Another factor in the decision, said Meyer, is that about 40 percent of the contractors in the general Pelican area are heading toward retirement in the next five to ten years, and there doesn’t appear to be family members stepping up to take over. 

The closing is a sad day for Mary Olson, the longest-tenured employee who started in the 1970s. Though she retired late in 2022, she has fond connections to the lumber yard—all three of her sons worked there, at various times: Brian, Darren, and Chris. 

In total, Olson was full-time for 43 years, plus a few part-time years earlier in her career.

With the development of lakeshore areas, dating back to the 1930s, many lake homes from Pelican Lake to as far as Otter Tail Lake have Crane Johnson materials.

In January of 2022, Crane Johnson Lumber was sold to Miller Holdings, a Bismarck-based firm. Locations included Pelican, Perham, Fargo, and Mayville.