Raymond A. Hanson, born in Potlatch, Idaho, in 1923, left his mark on the Palouse farming region. When the inventor and industrialist died in 2009, he held more than 100 patents, but is best known for modifying combines to harvest crops on the undulating hillsides of the Palouse.
In 1942, Hanson designed a system that automatically kept the machine level while the harvesting head followed the contours of the terrain. In the early days, Hanson would drive from farm to farm, offering to install the equipment on a combine and remove it if the farmer wasn’t happy with it. He never removed one, according to stepson Eric Redman.
The business was called R.A. Hanson Co., later known as RAHCO.
This complex modification, adding tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of a new combine, opened up land once thought too steep for cultivation. Soon farmers needed one or more modified combines in their equipment fleet, and it changed the economics of regional farming.
In the 1950s, Hanson turned to designing and building specialty equipment used in construction and mining. His equipment was shipped to 50 countries to build canals, excavate and move ore in mines and drill for oil and gas. Hanson worked on the MX missile track system during the Cold War and built the 2,000-ton gantry crane used to set a giant generator at Grand Coulee Dam.
The company moved to Spokane in the 1960s, eventually taking over the former Kaiser Aluminum magnesium plant. The massive site has more than 200,000 square feet of indoor space. The plant’s modern office, opened in 1974, was built with modular panels created by Hanson.
Hanson’s company was split into various divisions and sold off.
He enjoyed motorcycles, skiing and flying airplanes. He once had a Rolls-Royce and his own P-51 Mustang aircraft. Hanson also helped start the 49 Degrees North ski area.
Hanson promoted Spokane Valley incorporation and developed the Spokane Valley Mall. He donated to educational causes.
In a 1985 news profile, Hanson said he was “not in this world to make money. I’m in this world to do things.”