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Andrea Hunter Halgrimson, Published July 04 2010

Halgrimson: Hanson School trained thousands in mechanics

For more than 50 years, the Hanson Mechanical Trade School was a fixture in downtown Fargo, training people to repair farm equipment and aviation machinery.

The school, at 65 3rd St. N., was founded in 1918 by August Hanson, who was born in Skane, Sweden, in 1871. Hanson came to the United States with his parents, five brothers and three sisters in 1880, and the family settled on a farm near Benson, Minn.

In 1898, he went to work for the J.I. Case Co. at Racine, Wis., as a salesman and mechanic. Hanson moved to St. Louis in 1901 and later to Fergus Falls, Minn. In 1904 he came to Fargo as branch manager for the company.

In 1918, he established the Hanson Auto and Tractor School to teach farmers how to operate and repair tractors so they would not lose time in the field by having to call in the manufacturer’s professionals.

In 1929, Hanson added a course in aviation ground-work mechanics to give students practical experience in repairing airplanes. The course prepared students for government examinations for aviation mechanics licenses. He later sold that part of the school.

Hanson was eventually elected to the Fargo City Commission, where he held the fire and water portfolio, and later to the Cass County Commission. He was a member and trustee of the First Methodist Church. Hanson was also a member of the Fargo Library Board, the Rotary Club, the Chamber of Commerce, the YMCA, the Masonic bodies and El Zagal Shrine.

By the time Hanson died in 1945, the school’s name had been changed to Hanson Mechanical Trade. Because of a spinal ailment, Hanson had operated the school from his home for the previous 15 years.

The school was inherited by Hanson’s wife, Esther, whom he married in 1901. He also had a son, Byron. W., and a daughter, Ruth, who served as office manager. J.V. Arzdorf was the superintendent.

In 1947, the school, the Dakota Transfer and Storage Co. and the Freuhauf Trailer Co. at the same site were consumed in a spectacular blaze caused by three explosions. Following the blaze, Freuhauf and Dakota Transfer found new locations, and the various departments of the Hanson school were moved to four other buildings in Fargo and Moorhead.

By February the following year, the school had been rebuilt and its size increased from the original 15,000 square feet to 24,000 square feet. It was considered one of the most complete privately operated trade schools in the Northwest.

Changing hands

In 1954, the school was purchased from Esther C. Hanson by her children for approximately $90,000.

A remodeling project in 1956 added wheel alignment facilities, wheel balancers and brake doctors for auto repair and allowed the school to handle up to 175 students.

The following year, the diesel mechanics department was expanded to 30 weeks, the top and body repair to 20 weeks, welding to six weeks and lathe operation to four weeks. Instructors at that time were Phillip Dregseth, Leonard Wagner, Irving Dregseth, Merlin Burda, Everald Timm, Adolph Regelmbal and Wallace Utke.

By 1958, it was estimated the school had trained 10,000 students, many of whom attended with the assistance of the GI Bill.

In the late 1950s, the school started offering an auto course for women covering auto mechanics, proper parking and first aid. By the mid-1960s, the eight-week-long course, co-sponsored by the YWCA, had been attended by 200 women.

In 1958, Hanson Mechanical Trade School marked its 50th anniversary. It was noted that while most of its students come from North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana, others came from all parts of the continental United States, as well as Alaska, Hawaii and countries such as Trinidad, Colombia and Nigeria.

In May 1974, Ruth and Byron Hanson decided to sell the school upon their retirement. It was sold to a Fargo corporation owned by Henry Deyle, George L. Kelly, Dennis Lonski and Ronald Gourde. Jerome Arzdorf, who had been superintendent since 1942, also retired at that time.

After the sale, Ansel O. Hakanson was appointed director. He had been service technician, supervisor of shop facilities and instructor in the engines laboratory at North Dakota State University and owned and operated the Hakanson Auto Repair shop.

In August 1976, Henry Deyle, president of the new corporation, announced the closure of Hanson Mechanical Trade School because of increased costs for services and materials. He added that the growth of public institutions offering similar courses had made it difficult for a private institution to compete. The last classes were held July 31 of that year.

Sources: Forum files, the Institute for Regional Studies at NDSU