The run from Houston, Texas to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska is 4,500 miles and there is nothing regular about this regular run. Then again, Lynden which provides services to Alaska specializes in working in tough environments.
Lynden International provides a regular service linking Houston with Prudhoe Bay, the site of Alaska’s largest North Slope oil field. It’s by no means a run-of-the-mill journey.
To begin with, there’s the distance — some 4,500 miles. Then, there’s the need for three different types of trucks: One that transports the equipment from Houston to Canada. Another that picks up the journey from Canada to Fairbanks. And a third that completes the journey over largely rough gravel roads in often punishing conditions.
“It’s quite a run,” said Alex McKallor, Lynden’s executive vice president and COO. “Between Fairbanks and Prudhoe, you just don’t take some guy off the street in Houston and put him on the Dalton Highway where there are avalanches and steep grades and it’s below zero. You need someone with a ton of experience, who wants to work in this kind of environment. It’s tough stuff.”
The cargo is inevitably challenging itself, as Lynden must often deliver goods and equipment such as drilling tools, pipes and supplies related to oil production to the field. (Two years back, Lynden moved North America’s largest land-based oil rig from its construction site in Alberta to Prudhoe Bay, but that was a mere 2,400 miles. The rig was shipped over six months in more than 320 separate truckloads and then reassembled into a 5,250 tons behemoth.)
Making the Tough Ordinary
Based in Anchorage, Lynden prides itself in making tough stuff ordinary. It has built a thriving logistics business by connecting the vast stretches of Alaska, and Alaska with the mainland US and Canada. To accomplish this, Lynden uses a wide variety of hard assets that range from barges and hovercraft to C-130 Hercules transports and landing craft, from PistenBully Snowcats pulling a sleigh to big rigs pulling specialized trailers.
That’s not only what sets this company apart, said McKallor. “We’re not just a trucking company or a freight airline,” he said. “We understand the nature of the freight that we’re handling so well. We’re connected to it. That allows us to make some of the solutions that others don’t come up with.”
Combine that with familiarity of terrain and far-flung locales, especially in Alaska, where Lynden first ventured almost 70 years ago. “We’ve built our business around the idea of servicing these difficult locations,” said McKallor. “We have a whole tool kit that’s designed around getting to any of these kind of places.”
McKallor cited one recent example in which Lynden delivered four 40-foot hi-cube containers to the remote settlements of Point Hope and Kaktovik. This past winter, the hunter inhabitants needed the reefers to store frozen whale meat. The only way to transport these containers outside of summer is by air, but waiting for summer risked spoiling the meat. The problem, McKallor explained, was that the containers are taller than the maximum height of the Hercules’ cargo space. But the Lockheed transport is wider than it is tall. So, a Lynden team devised a way to turn the containers on their sides and modify tractor dollies into mobile platforms for transfer in and off the plane. “We’re very intimate with freight and understand the handling characteristics of it,” he said. We realize the importance of and pay attention to fractions of inches.” According to Alaska Business, Lynden is the fourth largest Alaskan-owned company in the state. Revenue in 2020, the latest year published, was $960 million, a 10% drop from 2019 largely attributable to the impact of COVID. Lynden employs about 2,600, of which some 1,000 are Alaska-based. It operates more than one dozen subsidiaries
In addition to its Alaskan operations, through a 2020 acquisition of two barges, Lynden also provides a scheduled barge service to Hawaii from Seattle, augmenting its longstanding Hawaii-bound freight forwarding. It carries freight from the US to Canada and across Canada as well.
A Hawaii focus illustrates the company’s creativity as well. Lynden, like many larger logistics operators, have containers built for them to specifications. According to McKallor, his company is unique in that it has rack captive beams installed inside the containers. The company uses Kinedyne Kaptive Beam decking systems, which are adjustable to enable multiple levels within one container. This system “allows us to be able to handle products that are difficult to stack and not get crushed,” he said, citing a shipment of surfboards the company transported to Hawaii from LAX as a good example.
More recently, Lynden demonstrated its great nimbleness on cross-border logistics as well. Earlier this year, Canadian trucker protesters blocked access to the border crossing connecting Windsor, Ontario with Detroit. Two air charter brokers tapped Lynden’s Hercules aircraft to fly auto parts — mostly truck engines — from Ontario to Detroit in what the company termed an airbridge. The planes were able to begin transport within twelve hours of the initial request, the company said. At one point, auto-parts laden planes were taking off and landing every three hours.
“This came up quite suddenly, but fell right into our wheelhouse,” said McKallor. “Our operating tempo is to be able, at very short notice, to respond to things like this.”
What Lynden found more challenging were supply chain hassles, coming at it on two fronts. First, it faced enormous obstacles when attempting to order several new tractors. At the end of 2021, the manufacturers canceled the orders because they couldn’t produce them. They told Lynden that the transport company could reorder, but for much more money. “Then they told us again, ‘it’s going to go up even more after you’ve ordered it,’” said McKallor.
Then, of course, Lynden’s customers confronted supply chain issues as well. Take, for example, said McKallor, an exporter from the US to Asia of dried dairy products. They were in danger of not being able to fulfill an order because several hundred of their containers were stuck in Seattle. So, McKallor said, Lynden developed a logistics plan to bypass the issues in Seattle. The containers were moved by a Lynden barge to Dutch Harbor, and there transferred to an interline partner to ship the rest of the way to Beijing.
Meeting deadlines in time-critical shipments is a big factor in any successful logistics provider’s business and Lynden is no exception. Take, for example, the handling of fresh salmon, caught in Bristol Bay, the most important salmon grounds in North America. Lynden flies the salmon to Anchorage where it briefly stores, then transships the valuable cargo to international carriers, giving avid consumers in Japan, Korea or China the chance to savor the fresh fish the following day.