Tom Nelson was 4 years old when he took his first ride with his father “Nels” on a moving trip.
Now in his early 80s, Nelson is still in the family business that has moved the furniture of countless families across the country.
The company was founded in 1919 by Nelson’s grandfather, Otto, who purchased a truck and started in the moving business after nearly 20 years as a farmer.
His oldest son, Nels, joined him later that year and another son, Elmer, joined two years later.
Originally known as Otto Nelson and Sons, they started with one truck providing transportation services for furniture, meat for butcher shops, flour for bakeries, and lumber for the mill shops from the local railroad stations.
Tom Nelson was 21 when he drove on his own long distance move over a two-lane highway and at a top speed of only 45 miles per hour to Arkansas.
Though Otto Nelson has hauled many tons of furniture and office equipment over the years, in one of the most memorable moves Nelson said they were hired to haul a truckload of horse buggies that were owned by a doctor.
Nelson co-owns the business that his grandfather Otto founded in 1919, along with George Follensbee, the company president and Jeff Zastoupil, the vice president.
Though the times have changed, Otto Nelson Moving & Storage, 6203 28th Ave., has survived changes in the moving industry, endured changes in the trucking industry that now has a shortage of drivers, and has navigated the onslaught of competition from short distance moving truck rentals companies.
Marking 100 years
Celebrating its 100th anniversary, Otto Nelson has grown by offering customer service based upon the motto it adopted when it was founded in 1919: “quality, quality, quality.”
In observance of its anniversary, Follensbee sought and commissioned the restoration of a 1925 International moving truck.
“It’s a piece of history,” Follensbee said describing the truck. He said the fully functional vehicle will be used for promotional purposes.
Restored by Epic Motorsports, a vehicle customizing specialist, the truck is much like those that the Nelsons used early on during their formative years in the moving business.
Continues to evolve
In 2009, Otto Nelson made an contractual arrangement that allowed it to regain its status as an independent operator. It is an independently owned company that operates as an long distance agent for United Van Lines, the nation’s largest long distance mover.
Otto Nelson became a United agent in 1982 after 27 years as a long distance agent for North American Van Lines.
Follensbee said the company has continued to flourish because there is a constant effort to “improve on efficiencies.”
“We knew we had the structure here to make this successful,” explained Zastoupil.
In 2016, Otto Nelson added another 5,000 square feet to its facility. It added an additional dock area and made yard improvements. It now has some 20,000 square feet of space.
Serves naval base
While it has grown as a mover, it also has expanded its storage services. Otto Nelson is the primary mover and storage company serving the Great Lakes Naval Base.
It moves Navy base service personnel and their families to the next U.S. deployment and even stores their belongs for months or even years, depending upon their service time domestically or globally.
Follensbee and Nelson estimate the company now generates 65 to 70 percent of its business from storage with the Great Lakes Naval Base, its largest customer.
Otto Nelson is an award winning mover. In 1990 won the President Club Award for generating $1 million in transportation sales.
The Presidents Club awards continued and, in 1995, the company’s earned its first $2 million dollar recognition at the Kenosha location. The trend, and the awards, have continued.
It has received numerous safety and packing recognitions along with Driver of the Year and agent of the month awards.
In 1994. the Department of Defense gave the company a Military Traffic and Management Command Award.
In 2017, Otto Nelson was selected as a Kenosha Area Business Alliance Fast Five award winner for its growth and devotion to superb customer service.