A family friend, Jack Littfin, owns Littfin Truss in Howard Lake. My sisters and I spent time with his 3 daughters growing up. Now that my sister Annie and I are home schooling, we hope to inspire our children and teach them, through mentors and real world experiences. In March of 2012, Jack was generous enough to welcome our families into his business. He gave us a personal tour of Littfin Truss. He explained to us how he began his business, how it has changed and grown. He also demonstrated the advancements in automation he has enjoyed over time.
Wisdom for a lifetime
Jack shared some very wise advice with us:
1. Know your numbers (math).
2. Be wise in spending, “when you make money, be sure to save it for when times get tough. There are good and bad times; save for the bad ones.”
Jack’s father was a builder and when Jack was young, he was able to help his father in his work. He explained “I like building things and to help put ideas into reality.”
Jack started his business in the 1960’s, supplying sheetrock and lumber to contactors and builders. The speed of on-site labor was not good for the construction of trusses. In an effort to increase productivity, in lieu of constructing the trusses on-site, they began constructing custom trusses offsite and delivering them to the construction site when needed. This enabled builders to build their buildings faster.
From 1962 to 1982 they built houses, sheds and at this time, the economy was bad.
Jack said owning a business is hard work. “The first 30 years I worked very hard, but the last 20 have not required as much of me.”
Littfin Truss has two locations:
In Winsted they design 2 or 3 different types of trusses which enable them to create up to 100 different trusses. They rely heavily on computers to design the trusses. The design is based on a plan created with specifications provided by their customers, depending on the type of building to be built.
In Howard Lake they take the design, provided by the team in Winsted and build the trusses.
A truss is made of a top and bottom chord and bracing or webs. They are fastened together by gusset plates.
Jack’s business is very seasonal; they typically expect a decrease in business of 25% in the winter months. Therefore he employs a larger staff of 225, in the summer months contrasted with 100 in the winter.
Trees / Raw Materials
The production of trusses at Littfin Truss typically consumes 50,000 trees per day. However, they plant 150,000 trees per day, thus trees for Littfin Truss, are a renewable resource.
Most of their trees come from British Columbia, Canada. There are big saw mills. They cut the trees into lumber and ship to the US.
Littfin Truss buys 80% of their trees from British Columbia and Oregon, these are Spruce or Fir trees. The remaining 20% are from the south, Alabama, where they buy Pine or Long Leaf Pine.
Southern Pine is the strongest; the stronger wood goes into the larger trusses. There are 5 different grades of 2x4. Poor grade is 800, and the better grades are 1250, 1800, 2400 and 2700.
2400 grade 2x4’s can make 30’ trusses where 1200 grade 2x4 is good for a 20’ truss. 800 grade is used in the webs of the truss and 1000 grade is used for the bottom of the truss.
Lumber makes up 30% of Littfin’s cost in a truss, the rest of the cost is labor and overhead.
The process of making a truss entails many different steps and typically takes from 5 minutes to one hour depending on size and complexity. The following steps are followed in the truss production:
1. Unload the lumber from the railroad tracks on Littfin’s property.
2. Lumber is run through the saws and is cut to specification. Each saw is run by computer and the specifications input into the computer to determine lumber size.
3. The lumber then is assembled and fastened together with gusset plates, which are applied at 50,000 psi.
4. The assembled truss is then loaded and ready for shipping to the job site.
In order to keep the employees safe and prevent them from dangerously heavy lifting, there are cranes over each work table that lift the trusses, which can weigh anywhere from 50 to 300 lbs.
Littfin Truss has a very large facility in Howard Lake, MN. The building itself was a train building near the old Met Stadium in the cities. The old building held 7 train tracks. Jack took this building down and hauled it, trailer by trailer to Howard Lake to reassemble for his business.
Thank you Jack; for a memorable, enjoyable and educational morning. You absolutely inspired our children (and their mothers)!
For more information, visit http://littfintruss.com/