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Family, friends recall R.A. Hanson

Raymond A. Hanson, a successful inventor and industrialist who died at his Spokane Valley home last Thursday at age 85, was remembered on Sunday as a man who tackled some of the biggest mechanical challenges in the world.

He held more than 100 U.S. patents and had sold equipment in 50 countries.

“He was a mechanical genius,” said Roxann Middleton, a longtime employee. “He had an entrepreneurial mind, the vision and the intestinal fortitude to keep a business going for 50 years.”

Born on Dec. 10, 1923 in Potlatch, Idaho, Hanson grew up on a family farm near Palouse. He attended the University of Idaho and studied mechanical engineering.

In 1942, he conceived the idea for an automated self-leveling attachment for harvesting wheat on steep hillsides, an innovation that was credited for revolutionizing large-scale hillside farming.

In 1946, he founded R.A. Hanson Co. Inc., also known as RAHCO, to produce the leveling device.

The company moved to Spokane County in 1968, and his two manufacturing buildings near Mead were large enough to hold two 747 jets. His name appeared in huge letters atop one roof.

Eric Redman, a stepson, said that in his early years Hanson hooked up a trailer and went from farm to farm, offering to install his leveling device for a free trial and to remove it if the farmer declined to buy. He never removed one.

By the 1950s, he was designing and building excavating machines, including a system used on construction of the California Aqueduct in 1965.

“He had one focus, and that was designing equipment,” Redman said.

He worked on a “racetrack” system for the MX missiles and a 2,000-ton gantry crane used in construction of a third powerhouse at Grand Coulee Dam. He was a charter founder and interim president of the Bank of Spokane.

In a 1985 news profile, Hanson said he was “not in this world to make money. I’m in this world to do things.”

He was an enthusiastic pilot, motorcyclist and skier. He was involved in creation of 49 Degrees North ski area near Chewelah.

He once drove a Rolls Royce. He owned various planes over the years, including a P-51 Mustang war plane, said business associate John Konen.

“Raymond liked to dabble in a lot of things,” Konen said.

Hanson was a contributor to education, including expansion of Martin Stadium at Washington State University in 1985, and was widely involved in civic affairs.

In 1986, he proposed a garbage sorting, composting and fuel production process as a competitive idea for the garbage incinerator that was eventually built by the city and county.

Last July, the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers honored Hanson and his combine-leveling system with a historical agricultural engineering landmark designation in Palouse ,where production first started. In 1985, UI awarded him an honorary doctoral degree.

He purchased land through Whitworth University that eventually became Spokane Valley Mall and was actively involved in developing surrounding property.

He was an early proponent of Spokane Valley incorporation. In 2002, he loaned proponents money to hire people to gather signatures and had donated for incorporation campaign headquarters. About a year ago, his health began to fail and he was less active. Redman said he died in bed at night.

He is survived by his wife of 43 years, Lois. He had three children from an earlier marriage and three step children.

A funeral service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday in the Colonial Chapel at Hazen & Jaeger Valley Funeral Home, 1306 N. Pines Road. A visitation period is set for Thursday from noon to 7 p.m.

Mike Prager can be reached at (509) 459-5454 or by e-mail at mikep@spokesman.com.

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